"An antidote. A short story about some of the Presidents of the United States."
"You mean anecdote, child. I didn't suppose you were old enough to be studying history in your room."
"Oh, this ain't hist'ry! We have a calendar each month telling what big men or women were born and why. Then teacher tells us something about their lives. Lots of 'em are very int'resting, but I can't remember which were Presidents and which were only manner-fracturers. That's my trouble."
"Well, it just happens that I can help you out there, my girlie," smiled Elizabeth, smoothing the damp curls back from the flushed cheeks. "John has a book in his library of just such things as that. We'll get it and hunt up some nice, new stories that aren't hoary with age."
The volume was quickly found, and several quaint anecdotes were selected for the next day's program, so if by chance other pupils had come prepared with some of them, there would be still others for Peace to choose from. And when school-time came the next day, she departed almost happily, with the Presidential book tucked under one arm and the well-fingered Longfellow under the other; for she meant to make sure that the words were fresh in her mind before her turn came to recite.
The session began very auspiciously with some happy songs, and Peace's spirits rose. Then came the drawing lesson. Peace was no more of an artist than she was an elocutionist, but she tried hard, and was working away industriously trying to paint the group of grape leaves Miss Peyton had arranged on her desk, when one of the little visitors slipped from his seat in his mother's lap and wandered across the room to his sister's desk, which chanced to be directly in front of Peace; so he could easily see what she was doing. He watched her in silence a moment, and then demanded in a stage whisper, "What you d'awing?"
"Grape leaves," Peace stopped chewing her tongue long enough to answer.
"No, they ain't neither. They's piggies."
The brown head was quickly raised from her task, and the would-be artist studied her work critically. The boy was right. They did look somewhat like a litter of curly-tailed pigs. All they needed were eyes and pointed ears. Mechanically Peace added these little touches, made the snouts a little sharper, drew in two or three legs to make them complete, and sat back in her seat to admire the result of her work.
"Ah," simpered Miss Peyton, who had chanced to look up just that minute, "Peace has finished her sketch. Bring it to the desk, please, so we may all criticize it."
Peace had just dipped her brush into the hollow of her cake of red paint, intending to make the piggies' noses pink, but at this startling command from the teacher, she seemed suddenly turned to an icicle. What could she do? She glanced around her in an agony of despair, saw no loophole of escape, and gathering up the unlucky sketch, she stumbled up the aisle to the desk, still holding her scarlet-tipped paint brush in her hand.
Usually Miss Peyton examined the drawings herself before calling upon the scholars to criticise; but this was the last day of school, and the program was long; so she smiled her prettiest, and said sweetly, "Hold it up for inspection, Peace."
Miserably Peace faced the roomful of scholars and parents, and extended the drawing with a trembling hand. There was an ominous hush, and then the whole audience broke into a yell of laughter. Miss Peyton's face flushed scarlet, and holding out her hand she said sharply, "Give it to me."
Peace wheeled about and dropped the sheet of pigs upon the desk, but at that unfortunate moment, the paint-brush slipped from her grasp and spilled a great, scarlet blot on the teacher's fresh white waist. Dismayed, Peace could only stare at the ruin she had wrought, having forgotten all about her drawing in wondering what punishment would follow this second calamity; and Miss Peyton had to speak twice before she came to her senses enough to know that she was being ordered to her seat.
"Oh," she gasped in mingled surprise and relief, "lemon juice and salt will take that stain out, if it won't fade away with just washing."
Again an audible titter ran around the room, and the teacher, furiously red, repeated for the third time, "Take your seat, Peace Greenfield!"
Much mortified and confused, the child subsided in her place and tried to hide her burning cheeks behind the covers of her volume of anecdotes, but fate seemed against her, for Miss Peyton promptly ordered the paint boxes put away, the desks cleared, and the scholars to be prepared to tell the stories they had found. Now it happened that generous-hearted Peace had lent her book of Presidential reminiscences to several of her less lucky mates that noon, and as she was one of the last to be called upon, she listened with dismay as one after another of the tales she had taken so much pains to learn were repeated by other scholars.
In order that all might hear what was said, each pupil marched to the front of the room, told his little story and returned noiselessly to his seat; so when it came Peace's turn, she stalked bravely up the aisle, faced the throng of scared, perspiring children and beaming mothers, made a profound bow, and said, "George Washington was pock-marked."
She was well on her way to her seat again, when Miss Peyton's crisp tones halted her: "Peace, you surely have something more than that. Have you forgotten?"
"No, ma'am. I lent my stories to the rest of the scholars this noon and they have already spoke all I knew, 'xcept those that are hairy with age. Everyone knows that George Washington was bled to death by over-jealous doctors."
The harder Peace tried to do her best, the more blundering she became; and now, feeling that the visitors were having great fun at her expense, she sank into her seat and buried her face in her arms, swallowing hard to keep back the tears that stung her eyes.
Directly, she heard Patty Fellows reciting, "The Psalm of Life," and Sara Gray answer to her name with, "The Castle-Builder." Next, the children sang another song, and then—horror of horrors!—Miss Peyton called her name. It was too bad! Any other teacher would have excused her, but she knew Miss Peyton never would. So with a final gulp, she struggled to her feet and advanced once more to the platform.
Her heart beat like a trip-hammer, her breath came in gasps, and her mind seemed an utter blank. "'Come to me,'" prompted the teacher, perceiving for the first time the child's panic and distress; but Peace did not understand that this was her cue, and with a despairing glance at the immovable face behind the desk, she cried hastily, "Oh, not this time! I've thunk of it now. Here goes!
"'Between the dark and the daylight When the night is beginning to lower, Comes a pause in the day's occupation, That is known as the Children's Hour.'"
Verse after verse she repeated glibly, racing so rapidly that the words fairly tumbled out of her mouth. Suddenly the dreadful thought came to her. She had begun the wrong poem! Her voice faltered; she turned pleading, glassy eyes toward the teacher; and Miss Peyton, misunderstanding the cause of her hesitation, again prompted, "'They climb—'"
Peace was hopelessly lost.
"'They climb up onto the target,'"
She recited in feverish tones:
"'O'er my arms and the back of my hair; If I try to e-scrape, they surround me; They scream to me everywhere,'"
Someone tittered; the ripple of mirth broke into a peal of laughter; and with a despairing sob, Peace cried, "Oh, teacher, I've got the stage-strike! I can't say another word!" And out of the room she rushed like a wounded bird.
Usually Elizabeth was her comforter, but this day some blind instinct led her to take refuge in the Enchanted Garden, and she sobbed out her sorrow and humiliation in the skirts of her beloved Lilac Lady.
Peace in tears was a new sight for the invalid, and she was alarmed at the wild tempest of grief. But the small philosopher could not be unhappy long, and after a few moments the tears ceased, the storm was spent, a flushed, swollen face peeped up at the anxious eyes above her, and with a familiar, queer little grimace, she giggled, "I made 'em all laugh, anyway, and they did look awful solemn and funerally lined up there against the wall. But I s'pose teacher won't let me pass now, and I'll have to take this term all over again."
"Tell me about it," said the lame girl gently, stroking the damp curls on the round, brown head in her lap.
So Peace faithfully recounted the day's events to the amusement and indignation of her lone audience; but when she had finished, she sighed dolefully. "The worst of it is, I've got to go back to school tomorrow for my books and dismissal card. Oh, mercy, yes! And Miss Peyton has got my Longfellow. I don't b'lieve I can ever ask her for it, even if it is Saint John's."
"Oh, yes, you can," assured the Lilac Lady. "By the time tomorrow comes, the teacher will have forgotten all about the mistakes of today."
"It's very plain that you don't know Miss Peyton," was the disconcerting reply. "There's nothing she ever forgets. My one comfort is I won't have to go to school to her next year even if she doesn't let me pass now, 'cause by that time the girls will all be well and I can go home again. There's always a grain of comfort in every bit of trouble, grandma says."
"Sca-atter sunshine, all along the wa-ay," sang the lame girl, surprised out of her long silence in her anxiety to cajole her little playmate into her happy self again; but Peace did not even hear the rich sweetness of the voice, so surprised was she to have her motto turned upon her in that manner, and for a few moments she sat so lost in thought that the lame girl feared she had offended her, and was about to beg her forgiveness when the round face lifted itself again, and Peace exclaimed, "That's what I'll do! Tomorrow, when I have to go back for my card, I'll offer to kiss her good-bye, and I'll tell her I'm sorry I've been such a bother to her all these weeks. I never thought about it before, but I s'pose she's just been in ag-o-ny over having me upset all her plans like I've managed to do, though I never meant to. The worse I try to follow what she tells us to do, the bigger chase I lead her. My, what a time she must have had! Do you think she she'd like to hear I'm sorry?"
"What a darling you are!" thought the lame girl. "I don't wonder everyone loves you so much." But aloud she merely answered heartily, "I think it is a beautiful plan, dear. When she understands that you have tried your best to please her, I am sure she will be kind to my little curly-head."
So it happened that when Peace received her dismissal card from Miss Peyton the next morning, she lifted her rosy mouth for a kiss, and murmured contritely, "I'm very sorry you have caused me so much bother since I came here to school, but next term I won't be here, for which you bet I'm thankful." She had rehearsed that little speech over and over on her way to school; but, as usual, when she came to say it to this argus-eyed teacher, she juggled her pronouns so thoroughly that no one could have been sure just what she did mean.
However, Miss Peyton had done some hard thinking since the previous afternoon, and a little glimmer of understanding was beginning to penetrate her methodical, order-loving soul, so she stooped and kissed the forgiving lips raised to hers, as she said heartily, "That is all right, my child. I wish I could erase all the troubles that have marred these days for you. I am sorry I did not know as much three months ago as I do now."
"I am, too, but folks are never too old to learn, grandpa says," Peace answered happily, and departed with beaming countenance, for Miss Peyton had "passed her" after all.
PEACE FINDS NEW PLAYMATES
It had been decided that Giuseppe Nicoli was to live at the stone house and be educated as the Lilac Lady's protege.
The Humane Society had thoroughly investigated the case and found that the poor little waif was an orphan, whom greedy-eyed Petri had taken in charge on account of his unusual musical talent. There were no relatives on this side of the water to claim the homeless lad, and those in old Italy were too poor to be burdened with his keep; so the Society gladly listened to the lame girl's plea, and gave Giuseppe into her keeping.
It would be hard to tell which was the more jubilant over his good fortune, the child himself, or Peace, who was never tired of rehearsing the story of his rescue from the brutal organ-grinder's clutches. So the minute she knew that the big house was to be his future home, she raced off to the corner drug store to telephone the good news to Allee and the rest at home, who were much interested in the doings at the little parsonage, and only regretted that the Hill Street Church was not yet able to afford a telephone of its own, for Peace could make only one trip daily to the drug store, and often the girls thought of something else they wanted to ask her after she had rung off. Also, the drug clerk was sometimes impolite enough to tell Peace that she was talking too long, and that does leave one so embarrassed.
This day, however, he had no occasion for uttering a word of complaint, for after a surprised exclamation and three or four rapid questions of the speaker at the other end of the line, Peace banged the receiver on its hook, and turned rebellious eyes on the idle clerk lolling behind the counter, saying, "Now, what do you think of that?"
"What?" drawled the man, who was in his element when he could tease someone. "Do you take me for a mind reader?"
"I sh'd say not!" she answered crossly. "It takes folks with brains to read other folks' minds."
"Whew!" he whistled, delighted with the encounter. "Your claws are out today. What seems to be the matter?"
"Grandpa has taken grandma and the little girls to the Pine Woods without so much as saying a word to me about it; and Gail and Faith have gone to the lake with the Sherrars and never invited me."
"If the whole family is away, who is keeping house?"
"Gussie and Marie, of course. Who'd you s'pose? Grandma told Gussie that when I called up she was to 'xplain matters to me so's I'd understand how it all happened and not feel bad about their going off. Gail and Faith went first. I 'xpected that part of it, but none of 'em ever hinted a word to me about the Pine Woods. I s'pose they've lived so long without me at home that they've got used to it and so don't care any more about me."
Two tears stole out from under the twitching lids and rolled down the chubby cheeks. The clerk moved uneasily. He did hate to see anyone cry, but had not the slightest idea how to avert the threatened deluge. As his eye roved about the small store for something to divert her attention, it chanced to rest upon the candy cabinet, and hastily diving into the case, he brought forth a handful of tempting chocolates, and presented them with the tactful remark, "Aw, you're cross; have some candy to sweeten you up!"
The brown eyes winked away the tears and blazed scornfully up at the face above her. "Keep it yourself! You need it!" she growled savagely, pushing the extended hand away from her so fiercely that the candy was scattered all about the floor, and without a backward glance, she flounced out of the store.
"Well, I vum!" exclaimed the astonished clerk. "Next time I'll let her bawl." Stooping over to collect the hapless chocolate drops before they should be tramped upon, he began to whistle, and the notes followed Peace out on the street—just a bar of her sunshine song, but the woe-begone face brightened a bit, although the girl said to herself, "Oh, dear, seems 'sif that song chases me wherever I go. I get it sung or whistled or spoke at me a dozen times a day. And it's hard work always to remember it, 'specially when folks go off and forget all about you when you've just been counting the days till 'twas time to go home and see Allee and grandpa after being away so long. S'posing I should die 'fore they get back, I wonder how they'll feel. Why, Peace Greenfield, you hateful little tike! Ain't you ashamed of yourself? Yes, I am. Of course they didn't run away a-purpose. Grandpa didn't know he had to go until an hour 'fore the train went, and there wasn't time to send for me and get my clo'es ready to go, too. It was awful nice of him to think of taking the girls and grandma to the Pine Woods to get real well and rested while he did up his business in Dolliver. They'll come back lots better than they'd be if they had to stay here through all this hot.
"Think of being shut up three months in the house so's they couldn't plant gardens or go flower-hunting, or have picnics, or even go to school! I've been doing all those things while they've been sick. I'm truly 'shamed of myself to be so cross about their going off. Elizabeth and Saint John are just the dearest people to me, and the Lilac Lady really cried tears in her eyes when she thought I was going to leave here Monday. She'll be glad to know that I am to stay two or three weeks longer. And it will be such fun to get letters from the girls in the woods all the while they are gone. After all, I b'lieve I'll have a better time here anyway."
The cloud had passed over without the threatened storm, and the round face, though still a little sober, looked quite contented again. But during this silent soliloquy, the young philosopher had been wandering aimlessly through the streets, without any thought of the direction she was taking, and was suddenly roused from her revery by the mingled shouts and laughter of a throng of boys and girls playing noisily in a great yard fenced in by tall iron pickets.
"Why, school is closed for the summer!" murmured Peace to herself, pressing her face against the iron bars in order that she might watch the lively games on the other side of the palings. "Elizabeth says all the Martindale schools close at the same time. What can these children be doing here then? P'raps this is where the old lady who lived in a shoe had to move to when the shoe got too small for her fambly. Do you s'pose it is?"
"Yup, I guess that's how it happened," answered a voice close beside her, and she jumped almost out of her shoes in her surprise, for unconsciously she had spoken her thoughts aloud, and a merry-faced urchin, sprawled in the shade of a low-limbed box-elder, had answered her. His peal of delight at having startled her so brought another lad and two girls to see the cause of his glee, and Peace was shocked to behold in the smaller of the girls her own double, only the stranger child was dressed in a long blue apron, which made her look much older than she really was. As the children stood staring at each other through the close-set pickets, the boy in the grass discovered the likeness of the two faces, and with a startled whoop sat up to ask excitedly of Peace, "Did you ever have a twin?"
"Oh, dear, I was sure you must have! You're just the yimage of Lottie. She's a norphan, and the folks that brought her here didn't even know what her real name was or anything about her, and we've always 'magined that some day her truly people would come and find her and she'd have a mother of her own."
"Is this a—a school?" asked Peace. She wanted to say orphan asylum, but was afraid it would be impolite, and she did not wish to offend any of these friendly appearing children.
"It's the Children's Home."
"Who owns it?"
"Why—er—I don't know," stammered the second youth, who seemed the oldest of the quartette inside the fence.
"I guess the splintered ladies do," remarked the cherub in the grass.
"Tony's trying to be smart now," said the larger girl scornfully. "The Lady Board is meeting today, and he always calls them the splintered ladies."
"What is a Lady Board?" inquired mystified Peace, thinking this was the queerest home she had ever heard tell of.
"Why, they are the ladies who say how things shall be done here—"
"The number of times we can have butter each week and how much milk each of us can drink, and the number of potatoes the cook shall fix," put in the boy called Tony.
"Don't you have butter every day!" cried Peace in shocked surprise.
"Well, I guess not! We have it Sunday noons and sometimes holiday nights."
"And we never have sugar on our oatmeal, or sauce to eat with our bread," added Lottie, shaking her curls dolefully.
"What do you eat, then?"
"Oh, bread and milk, and mush of some kind, or rice, and potatoes and vegetables and meat once a week and pie or pudding real seldom."
"Who takes care of you?" asked Peace again after a slight pause.
"The matron and nurses."
"What's a matron?"
"The boss of the caboose," grinned Tony irreverently.
"Is she nice?"
"That's what we're waiting to find out. She's just come, you see, and we don't know her real well yet. The other one was a holy fright."
"But the new one looks nice," said Lottie loyally. "She smiles all the time, and Miss Cooper never did. She always looked froze."
"She must be like Miss Peyton. She was my teacher at Chestnut School and I didn't like her a bit till the day school ended. She did get thawed out then, though, and I b'lieve she'll be nicer after this."
"Do you live near here?" asked Tony, thinking it was their turn to ask questions of this debonair little stranger, who evidently belonged to rich people, because her brown curls were tied back with a huge pink ribbon, a dainty white pinafore covered her pretty gingham dress, and her feet were shod in patent leather slippers.
"No, grandpa's house is three miles away, but I am staying at the Hill Street parsonage." Briefly she explained how it had all come about, and the story seemed like a fairy tale to the four eager listeners.
"Then you are an orphan, too," cried Tony triumphantly, when she had finished. "How do you know Lottie ain't your twin sister?"
"'Cause there never were any twins in our family, and if there had been, do you s'pose mother'd have let one loose like that, to get put in a Children's Home? I guess not!"
"Maybe she's a cousin, then."
"We haven't got any. Papa was the only child Grandpa Greenfield had, and mother's only brother died when he was little."
"But Lottie's just the yimage of you," insisted Tony, bent on discovering some tie of relationship between the two.
"I can't help that. I guess it's just a queerity, though I'd like to find out I had some sure-enough cousins which I didn't know anything about. Besides, Lottie is lots darker than me. Her hair is black and so are her eyes. Least I guess they are what you'd call black. Mine are only brown."
"You're the same size. Ain't they, Ethel?" asked the older lad.
"Yes, that was what I was thinking. I don't believe many folks would know them apart if they changed clothes."
"Oh, let's do it!" cried Peace, charmed with the suggestion. "We've got a book at home that tells how a little beggar boy changed places with a prince, and they had the strangest 'xperiences! It'll be lots of fun to fool the others. They haven't been paying any 'tention to our talking here. Where's the gate?"
"At the other side of the yard. There's only one—"
"But visitors aren't allowed to come and play with us without a permit from the matron," began the larger boy, cautiously.
"Oh, bother, George," Tony cried impatiently. "We can't get a permit now with all the Lady Boards here, and you know it."
"Why not?" asked Peace.
"'Cause Miss Chase is busy with them in the parlors and we can't see her till they are gone."
"How long will that be?"
"Oh, hours, maybe."
"Then I'll come in now and get my permit later."
Without waiting to hear what comments they might have to make about this plan, she flew around the corner Tony had indicated a moment before, and in through the great iron gates, standing slightly ajar. Following the wide walks leading from the front yard to the back, she came to another lower gate, where Ethel and Lottie met her; and in a jiffy the white apron was exchanged for the long, blue pinafore of the black-eyed child.
"You'll have to give her your hair-ribbon, too," said Ethel, surveying the two figures critically. "We don't wear ribbons here on common days, and that would give away that you weren't really Lottie."
Peace gleefully jerked off her rampant pink bow, and the older girl deftly tied it among the raven locks of the other orphan.
Tony and George now came slowly around the corner of the building, to discover whether the visitor had really kept her promise, and were themselves puzzled to know which was their mate and which the stranger child until Peace laughed. "That's where you are different," said George, critically. "You don't sound a bit alike. Come on and see who will be first to find out the secret."
So the masqueraders were led laughingly away to meet the other children, still boisterously playing at games under the trees. It did not take the fifty pair of sharp eyes as long to discover the difference as the five plotters had hoped, but they were all just as charmed with the result, and gave Peace a royal time. She was a natural leader and her lively imagination delighted her new playmates. But Lottie, in her borrowed finery, received scant attention, and being, unfortunately, rather a spoiled child, she resented the fact that Peace had usurped her place. So she retired to the fence and pouted. At first no one noticed her sullen looks, but finally Ethel missed her, and finding her standing cross and glum in the corner, she tried to draw her into the lively game of last couple out, which the stranger had organized.
"I won't play at all," declared the jealous girl. "No one cares whether I'm here or not, and 's long as you'd rather have her, you can just have her!"
"But we wouldn't rather," fibbed the older girl. "She's our comp'ny and we have to be nice to her."
"'Cause you like her better'n you do me," insisted the other.
"No such thing! Come on and see!"
"I won't, either!"
"What's the matter?" asked Peace, hearing the excited voices and stepping out of line to learn the cause.
"Oh, Lottie's spunky," answered Ethel carelessly, turning back to join her companions.
"I'm not! You horrid thing, take that!" Out shot one little hand and the sharp nails dug vicious, cruel scratches down Ethel's cheek.
"You cat!" cried Peace, horrified at the uncalled-for act, and springing at the white-aproned figure, she caught her by the shoulder, and shook her till her teeth rattled. Lottie doubled up like a jack-knife and buried her sharp teeth in the brown hand gripping her so tightly, biting so viciously that the blood ran and Peace screamed with pain.
Frightened at the sight of the two girls clinched in battle, the other children danced excitedly about the yard and shrieked wildly. Tony even started for the matron, but remembered the Lady Board meeting, and flew instead for the new cook, busy preparing refreshments for the distinguished visitors, gasping out as he stumbled into the kitchen, "Oh, come quick! There's a strange girl in the yard and Lottie's chewing her into shoe-strings!"
Bridget was new at the business, or she would never have meddled in the affair. Glancing out of the window, she saw what looked to be a small riot in the corner, and knowing that the matron and her assistants were engaged with their visitors in the other wing of the building, she dropped her plate of sandwiches, and rushed to the rescue as fast as her avoirdupois would permit. She was familiar enough with the rules of the institution to know that the Home children did not wear white aprons and pink hair-ribbons except on special occasions, and also that fighting was severely punished. It never occurred to her that the matron was the proper authority to whom to report trouble. She made a lunge for the two struggling children, jerked them apart, shook them impartially, and blazed out in rich, Irish brogue, "Ye dirty spalpeens, phwat d'ye mane by sich disorderly conduct? It'll be a long toime afore ye'll iver git inside this fince again to play, ye black-eyed miss! Make tracks now or I'll call the p'lice! You, ye little beggar, march straight inter the house! The matron'll settle with ye good and plenty whin she gits toime!"
Both girls tried to explain, and the frightened, excited Home children shouted in vain. Irish Bridget seized the resisting Lottie, thrust her forcibly out through the gate, and hustled poor Peace into the dark entry, in spite of her protests and frantic kicking. "I'm not Lottie, I'm not Lottie!" she wailed. "I don't b'long here, I tell you!"
"I don't care if ye're Lottie or Lillie," screamed the angry cook, pinioning the struggling child and carrying her bodily up a short flight of stairs into a wide hall. "Ye've been breaking the rules by fightin' and in that room ye go! The matron'll settle with ye afther a bit. An' ye'll catch it good, too, if ye kape on screeching loike that."
Peace was dumped into a small, office-like apartment, the key turned in the lock, and she was left alone. Frantic with excitement and fear, she let out three or four piercing screams, rattled the knob, and pounded the door until her fists were sore, but no one came to release her, and after a few moments she seemed to realize how useless it was to expect help from that quarter. She looked around her prison hopefully, curiously, for some other avenue of escape. A window stood open across the room, but the screen was fastened so tightly that she could not move it even when she threw her whole weight upon it. Besides, it was a long way to the ground below. Would she dare jump if the screen were not in her way?
Then her restless eyes spied the telephone on the desk behind her, and with a shriek of triumph she seized the receiver and called breathlessly over the wire, "Hello, central! Give me the drug store where I telephone every day. Number? I don't know the number. It's on Hill Street and Twenty-ninth Avenue. What information do you want? Well, I've thunk of the drug store's name now. It's Teeter's Pharmacy, and it's on the corner—Well, I'm giving you the information 's fast as I can. My name is Peace Greenfield, and the crazy cook's taken me for someone else and shut me in when I don't b'long to this Home at all. I changed clothes with—well, what is the matter now? If you'll give me that drug store—Teeter's Pharmacy, corner of Hill Street and Twenty-ninth Avenue,—I'll have them go after Saint John, so's he can come and get me out of here. A—what? Policeman? Are you a p'liceman? No, I ain't one, and I don't want one! Do you s'pose I want to be 'rested for getting bit? Oh, dear, I don't know what you are trying to say! Ain't you central? Then why don't you give me Teeter's Pharmacy, corner of Hill Street and—now she's clicked her old machine up! Oh, how will I ever get out of here?"
Dismayed to find that central had deserted her, she puckered her face to cry, but at that moment there were hasty steps in the hall, a key grated in the lock, and the door flew open, showing a startled, white-faced woman and frightened Tony in the doorway, while a whole string of curious-eyed ladies were gathered in the hall behind them.
Silently Peace stared from one to another, and then as no one offered to speak, she asked, "Where's the cook? Have you seen her lately?"
"No," laughed the matron, very evidently relieved at her reception. "Tony tells me that a mistake has been made and that you don't belong to the Home."
"He is right, I'm thankful to say," returned Peace with such a comical, grown-up air that the ladies in the hall giggled and nudged each other, and one of them ventured to ask, "Why?"
"Just think of having to live here day after day without any butter on your bread, or gravy for your potatoes, or sugar in your oatmeal, without any pies or cakes or puddings 'cept on Sundays and special holidays,—with only mush, mush, mush all the time, and not even all the milk you wanted, maybe! Hm! I'm glad I live in a house where there ain't any Lady Boards to tell us what we have to do and what we can have to eat. Come to think of it, I'm part of a norphan 'sylum, really. There's six of us at Grandpa Campbell's but he doesn't bring us up on mush. We have all the butter and sugar and gravy and pudding and sauce that we want—"
"This isn't an orphan asylum," said the matron kindly, wondering what kind of a creature this queer child was, but already convinced that Bridget had blundered, in spite of her startling resemblance to Lottie.
"It isn't? What do you call it then?"
"It is a Home for the purpose of taking care of children who have one or both parents living, but who, for some reason, cannot be taken care of in their own homes for a time."
"Oh! Then you take the place of mother to them?"
"I try to."
"Do you like your job?"
"Very, very much!"
"You do sound 'sif you did, but I sh'd think you'd hate to sit all those little children down to butterless bread and gravyless potato and sugarless mush. Oh, I forgot! That ain't your fault. It's the Lady Board which says what you have to feed your children. Did you ever ask them—the ladies, I mean—to be common visitors and eat just what the rest of you had? I bet if you'd just try that, they'd soon send you something different! I don't see how you stay so fat and rosy with—but then you've only just come, haven't you? I s'pose there's lots of time to get thin in. I wonder if that's what is the matter with Lottie," Peace chattered relentlessly on. "She is awfully ugly today; but then I'd be, too, if I had to live on such grub. It's worse than we had at the little brown house in Parker—"
"If you will slip off that apron and come with me," interrupted the matron desperately, not daring to look at the faces of her dismayed "Lady Board," "we will find Lottie and get your own clothes so you can go home. The next time you come, be sure to get a permit first. Then this trouble won't happen again."
"Oh, will you let me come some more?"
"Aren't you Dr. Campbell's granddaughter? Tony said you were."
"Yes, he's my adopted grandpa now."
"Mrs. Campbell is interested in the Home—"
"Is she a splinter?"
Tony giggled and dodged behind the matron to hide his tell-tale face, and Peace, remembering Ethel's explanation, said hastily, "I mean a piece of the Lady's Board?"
"No, she is not one of the Board of Directors, if that is what you mean; but she often sends the children little treats—candy and nuts at Christmas time, or flowers from the greenhouse after the summer blossoms are gone."
"Oh, I see. She told me one time that she would take us to visit the Children's Home, but I didn't know it was this. We've got scarlet fever at our house—."
"Child alive! What are you doing here?"
"Oh, I ain't got it, and anyway, I haven't been home since our spring vacation in March. I am staying with Saint John, the new preacher at Hill Street Church, and I 'xpect if I don't get home pretty soon, he'll think I am lost, sure. I went down to the drug store to telephone grandma, and when Gussie told me they had gone to the Pine Woods, I was so mad for a time that I just boiled over. So I walked on and on till I came to this place. I never have been so far before, and I didn't know there was such a Home around here. I know they'll let me come often. There aren't many children up our way to play with and sometimes it gets lonesome. There's Lottie now! Cook must have found out that I knew what I was talking about. Here's your apron, Lottie; and say, I'm awful sorry I shook you. Will you pretend I didn't do it, and be friends with me again?"
"I—I bit you," stammered the child, as much astonished at this greeting as were the matron and the "Lady Board," who still lingered in the hall, fascinated with this frank creature, who so fearlessly voiced her own opinions of their work.
"So you did!" exclaimed Peace, in genuine surprise, glancing down at the ugly, purple bruise on her hand, which she had completely forgotten. "Well, I won't remember that any more, either. Two folks which look so much alike ought to be friends, and I want you to like me."
"I—do—like you," faltered the embarrassed child. "I'm sorry I was hateful. Here are your apron and ribbon."
"Keep the ribbon," responded Peace generously. "I s'pose I've got to take the apron back, 'cause grandpa says I mustn't give away my clothes without asking him or grandma about it, and I can't now, 'cause they are both gone away. But a hair-ribbon ain't clothes, and, anyway, that's one Frances Sherrar gave me, so I know you can have it." She pressed the pink bow back into Lottie's hand, and throwing both arms around her, kissed her fervently, saying, "I am coming again some time soon, and I'll bring you a bag of sugar and some real butter so's you can have it extra for once, even if the Lady Boards didn't order it for that p'tic'lar day. Good-bye, Mrs. Matron, and Tony, and—all the rest. I've had a good time here—till I run up against the cook, I mean. Mercy! She's strong! But I'm glad grandpa adopted us so's I didn't have to come here to live." She waved her hand gaily at them, and danced away down the walk, whistling cheerily.
"She's a quaint child!" murmured the lady who had questioned her.
"She's a trump!" declared Tony to Lottie, as they departed together for the playgrounds.
And in her heart the matron whispered, "She's a darling!"
A LITTLE CHILD SHALL LEAD THEM
"Oh, Elspeth, you can't guess where I've been!" shrieked Peace, puffing with excitement as she stumbled up the steps after her long run home.
"Why, I thought you were playing with Giuseppe and the Lilac Lady," replied the young mother, looking up in surprise from the little white dress she was hemstitching.
"But I went down to the drug store to telephone grandma!"
"I know you did, but I thought you stopped to tell the news at the stone house on your way home."
"That the invalids have run away and left you."
"How did you know that?"
"The postman came just after you left, and he brought a letter from Dr. Campbell, explaining all about it."
"Then he did take time to write, did he? I was pretty hot about it at first," Peace admitted candidly, "But I don't care at all now. I've had such a splendid time here with you all the while they've been shut up sick, that no matter how long they stay in the Pine Woods, it couldn't make up for all they've missed by not being me."
"Do you really feel that way about it, dear?" cried Elizabeth, much pleased and touched at the child's unlooked-for declaration.
"You just better b'lieve I do! Why, I've had just the nicest time! I 'xpected I'd miss seeing the girls just dreadfully, but Gail and Faith have come up every single week, and I've telephoned home 'most every day, and the rest of the time has been filled so full that I haven't minded how long I've been away at all. This must be my other home, I guess."
"You little sweetheart! I wonder if you have any idea how much we are going to miss you when grandpa takes you away again."
"Oh, yes, I 'magine I do. I make such a racket wherever I go that when I leave, the stillness seems like a hole. But don't you fret! I'm coming up here real often—just as often as grandma will let me. 'Cause I've got not only you to visit now, but the Lilac Lady and Juiceharpie and the Home children—Oh, that's what I started to tell you about when I first came up.
"I've just been there. I never knew there was a Home so near here, or I'd have been there before this. And what do you think? There's a girl living in it named Lottie, which looks so much like me that when we changed aprons the other children didn't know the difference at first. They think she must be my twin sister or some cousin I don't know anything about, though I kept telling them there weren't any cousins in our family, and if mother'd ever had twins, she'd have kept 'em both and not throwed one away to grow up without knowing who her people were. Don't you think so?"
"I most assuredly do," Elizabeth answered promptly. "Gail has often told me that your papa was an only child, and the one brother your mamma had died when he was a little fellow. So there can't be any near cousins, and you are not a twin, so Lottie isn't your sister. How did it all come about?"
The story was quickly told, to Elizabeth's mingled amusement and horror; and Peace ended by sagely remarking, "So I'm going to ask Allee if she's willing that we should use some of our Fourth of July money to buy them a treat of sugar and butter for a whole day—or a week, if it doesn't take too much, and grandpa don't sit down on the plan. I don't think he will, 'cause these children aren't fakes. They really d'serve having some good times 'casionally, and it did make them so happy to have someone extra to play with. I s'pose they get awfully tired of fighting the same children all the time. Besides, we've got lots of money in our bank, 'cause we used only about ten dollars of our furnishing money to dec'rate our room with, and the rest we saved for patriotism. I am awful glad there are such places for poor children to go to when their own people can't take care of 'em, but I do wish the Lady Boards weren't so stingy."
Elizabeth knew it would do no good to argue the matter, and besides, she was not well posted concerning this particular Home, so she merely agreed that Peace's plan would no doubt make the little folks happy, but wisely suggested that she say no more about it until she had consulted with the family at home and received their consent. "Because, you see, dear, if you make some rash promises which you can't fulfill, it will only make the children unhappy, instead of bringing sunshine into their lives."
"But isn't it a good way to spend money? They ain't beggars with bank accounts somewhere, like the old woman which got Gail's dollar last spring."
"I think it is a very nice way, dearie, and I am sure grandpa will not object a mite; but the best way is not to make any promises that we don't intend to carry out, or that we are not sure we can fulfill. Then no one will be disappointed if our plans don't come through the way we hoped they would. Do you see what I mean?"
"Yes; never promise to do anything until you're sure you can. But that would keep me from doing lots of things, Elspeth. I could not ever promise to be good, or—"
"Oh, Peace, I didn't mean that!" Elizabeth never could get accustomed to this literal streak in the small maiden's character; and, in consequence, her little preachments often received an unexpected shower-bath. "I meant not to promise to do favors for other folks unless we can and will see that they are done."
"Ain't it a favor to be good when it's easier and naturaler to be bad—not really bad, either, but just yourself?"
"No, dear. We ought to try to be good without anyone's asking us to, and just because it is easier to do wrong than right is no excuse for us at all."
Unconsciously she said this very severely, for she thought she heard Saint John chuckling behind the curtains of the study window; but Peace interpreted the lecture literally, and hastily jumping up from the step, said, "I think I'll go and tell the Lilac Lady about the children, and see if she hasn't got more roses than she knows what to do with, 'cause I know they'd like 'em at the Home. Do you care?"
"No, Peace. Glen is asleep. But don't stay long, for it is nearly five o'clock now, and tea will soon be ready."
"All right. I'll bring you some roses for the table if she has any to spare today, and she ought to, 'cause the pink and white bushes have just begun to open."
She whisked out of sight around the corner in a twinkling, and was soon perched on the stool beside the lame girl's chair, regaling her with an account of the afternoon's adventures.
The white signal fluttering from the lilac bushes had been discarded long ago, and Peace was welcome whenever she came now, for with her peculiar childish instinct, she seemed to know when the invalid found her chatter wearisome. At such times she would sit in the grass beside the chair, silently weaving clover chains, or wander quietly about the premises, revelling in the beauty and perfume of the garden flowers, or better still, whistling softly the sweet tunes which the pain-racked body always found so soothing.
But this afternoon the young mistress of the stone house was lonely, for Aunt Pen and Giuseppe were in town shopping, and she wished to be amused; so Peace was doubly welcome, and felt very much flattered at the attention her lengthy story received. To tell the truth of the matter, the lame girl had just discovered how cunningly the small, round face was dimpled, and in watching these little Cupid's love kisses come and go with the child's different expressions and moods, she did not hear a word that was said until Peace heaved a great, sympathetic sigh, and closed her tale with the remark, "And so I'm going to see if I can't take them some—enough to last a week maybe—for it must be dreadful to eat bread and potatoes every day without any butter or gravy."
The older girl roused herself with a start, and promptly began asking questions in such an adroit fashion that in a moment or two she had the gist of the whole story, and was much interested in the picture Peace drew of the Home children's life. "Why, do you know, I used to go there with Aunt Pen—years ago—to carry flowers and trinkets, and sometimes to sing. My! How glad they used to be! They would sit and listen with eyes and mouths wide open as if they simply couldn't get enough. Aunt Pen used to be quite interested in the Home. Poor Aunt Pen! She gave up all her pet hobbies when I was hurt."
"Didn't you like to go?"
"Oh, it was flattering to have such an appreciative audience, of course; but—my ambitions soared higher than that. They were as well satisfied with a hand-organ."
"Oh, Tony ain't! And neither is Ethel! They both just love music, and they kept me whistling until I was tired. And how they do love stories! I 'magined for them till my thinker ran empty. I couldn't help wishing I was you, so's I could tell them all the beau-ti-ful fancies you make up as you lie here under the trees day in and day out. I told 'em about you and pictured this garden for 'em, and the flowers which Hicks cuts by the bushel-basket, and Juiceharpie which plays the fiddle and dances and sings like a cheer-up—"
"A cherub, do you mean? Giuseppe is inconsolable to think he can't teach you to say his name correctly."
"Yes, and I'm the same thing to think he's got such a name that won't be said right. He doesn't like Jessup any better. But never mind, I know he'd like Tony and the other Home boys; and I thought maybe you would let him go some day and play for the children there. Miss Chase is awfully sweet and nice, even if she is fat, and she'd be tickled to pieces to give him a permit any time he could come."
The lame girl laid a thin, waxen hand on the curly head bobbing so enthusiastically at her side, and murmured gently, "How do you think up so many beautiful things to do for other people?"
"I don't," Peace frankly replied. "I guess they just think themselves. You see, I know what it is to be poor and not have nice things like other folks, and now that grandpa's taken us home to live with him in a great, big house where there's always plenty and enough to spare, seems like it was just the proper thing to give some of it away to make the less forchinit a little happier. It takes such a little to make folks smile!"
"Indeed it does, little philosopher. Your name should have been Lady Bountiful. Giuseppe may go with you to the Home as often as he wishes with his violin, and help you make them happy."
"Oh, you're such a darling!" cried Peace in ecstasy, hugging the hand between her own pink palms. "I wish you could go, too. Tony says they have song services every Sunday afternoon, and they are great! I'm to go next Sunday and hear them, but I wish you could, too."
"You are very generous," murmured the lame girl a trifle huskily. Then—perhaps it was because Peace's enthusiasm was contagious, perhaps it was due to a growing desire in her own heart for the world from which she had shut herself so long ago—the older girl suddenly electrified her companion by adding, "I should like to hear them myself. Do you think the matron would allow them to visit me in my garden, seeing that I can't go to the Home as other folks do?"
"Oh, do you mean that?"
"Miss Chase couldn't say no to anything so beautiful, and I don't think the Lady Boards would object, either; but I'll find out. Saint John can tell me, I'm sure. Oh, I never dreamed of anything so lovely! I wouldn't have dared dream it!" She hugged herself in rapture, and her eyes beamed like stars. How grand it was to have friends like the Lilac Lady!
So it came about that a few days later fifty shining-faced, bright-eyed boys and girls from the Home marched proudly up Hill Street and in through the great iron gates to the Enchanted Garden, where the lame girl, with Aunt Pen and the parsonage household to assist her, waited to greet them.
That was a gala day, talked about for weeks afterward, dreamed of in the silent watches of the night, and recorded in memory's treasure book to be lived over again and again in later years,—one of those heart's delights, the fragrance of which never dies.
The Home children were charmed with the beautiful garden and its cool fountain, just as Peace had known they would be, and the frail young hostess was as charmed with her guests. They had games on the wide lawn, they sang their sweet, happy choruses, Giuseppe played and danced, Peace and the preacher whistled, Elizabeth told them stories, and Aunt Pen surprised them all by serving sparkling frappe with huge slices of fig cake, such as only Minnie, the cook, could make. Then, as the afternoon drew to a close, and the matron began lining up her charges for the homeward walk, Tony and Lottie stepped out of the ranks and sang a pretty little verse of thanks for the good time all had enjoyed.
So surprised was the Lilac Lady at this unexpected little turn, that for an instant her eyes grew misty with unshed tears; then she smiled happily, and obeying a sudden impulse, she lifted her voice and carolled,
"Come again, my little friends, You have brought me joy today; In my heart you've left a hymn That shall linger, live alway."
"Oh, my!" cried Peace, squeezing Elizabeth's hand in her astonishment and pleasure, "is it an angel singing?"
"Your Lilac Lady, dear. Didn't you know she could sing?"
"She told me she used to once, but I never heard her before."
"At college she was our lark. How we loved that voice! I think, little girl, you have saved a soul."
But Peace did not hear the words. She was joining in the wild applause that greeted this burst of melody from the long silent throat. Everyone had been taken by surprise, the children were dancing with delight, the matron's homely face was beaming, Aunt Pen's lips worked pathetically, and Hicks, still busy filling small arms with the choicest flowers from the garden, could only whisper over and over again, "Praise be, praise be, she has found her voice!"
The Lilac Lady herself seemed almost unconscious of the fact that she had torn down this last and strongest barrier between self and the world, and if she noticed the pathetic surprise on the loving faces hovering about her, she did not show it, but smiled serenely and naturally when the applause had died away. She would sing no more that afternoon, however, and the little visitors had to be contented with a promise of another song the next time they came. So they said good-bye to their charming hostess and filed happily down the walk to the street.
As the iron gates closed behind the little company homeward bound, Peace turned to blow a good-night kiss between the high palings to the young mistress, lying in her chair where they had left her, but paused enraptured by the picture her eyes beheld. A rosy ray of the setting sun filtered through the oak boughs overhanging her couch and fell full upon the white face among the cushions, bringing out the rich auburn tints of the heavy hair till it almost seemed as if a crown of gleaming gold rested upon her head, and the wonderful blue eyes reflected the light like sea-water, clear and deep and—unfathomable.
"Oh," whispered Peace, thrilling with delight, "I ought to have called her my Angel Lady!"
CHILDREN'S DAY AT HILL STREET CHURCH
"What do you think's happened now?" asked Peace, seating herself gloomily upon the footstool beside the invalid, and thrusting a long grass-blade between her teeth.
"I am sure I don't know," smiled the older girl. "You look as if it were quite a calamity."
"It's worse'n a c'lamity. It's a capostrophe. Glen's gone and got the croup—"
"Yes, so his papa told Aunt Pen this morning. How is the poor little fellow now?"
"He's better, doctor says; but his cold is dreadfully bad and may last for days, so Elspeth can't hear the children practise for next Sunday—I mean a week from tomorrow. That is Children's Day, you know. And Miss Kinney has ab-so-lute-ly refused to sing for us, 'cause Elspeth asked Mildred George to take a solo part, too, and Miss Kinney doesn't like Mildred. Why are huming beings so mean and horrid to each other? Now, I wouldn't care if I found someone which could sing better'n I,—s'posing I could sing at all. I'd just help her make all the music she could and be glad there was somebody who could beat me."
"Would you really?" asked the lame girl with a queer little note of doubt in her voice.
"Why, of course! I sh'd hate to think I was the best singer God knew how to make."
This was an idea which the invalid had never heard expressed before; but still somewhat skeptical, she asked, "Do you feel that way about whistling, too?"
"I sure do! I like to whistle, and it's nice to know I can beat all the boys that go to our school, and even Saint John. But you should hear Mike O'Hara! Oh, but he can whistle! It sounds like the woods full of birds. It's—it's—it's—" words failed her—"it's heaven to listen to him. I'm glad I know someone who whistles better than I can, 'cause there's that to work for, to aim at. But if I ever get so I can whistle as well as he does, I s'pose there will be lots better ones still. Miss Kinney wants to be the very best singer at Hill Street Church, though, and she's afraid if Mildred gets to taking solo parts in the exercises folks will want her all the time; so she's just trying to spoil the whole program that Saint Elspeth has worked so hard over."
Peace's observations were sometimes positively uncanny, and as she voiced this sentiment, the Lilac Lady asked curiously, "How do you know that is her reason? Did she tell you, or did Mildred?"
"Neither one. I heard Mrs. Porter tell Elspeth yesterday that Miss Kinney had cold feet; so after she was gone, I asked about it. Saint John was there, and Elspeth just laughed and said it was a remark I must forget, 'cause it wasn't real kind to speak so about anybody. But when I was in bed and they thought I'd gone to sleep, I heard Saint John ask Elizabeth about it, and she told him how Miss Kinney was acting, and how the program would all be spoiled, 'cause there isn't anyone to take her place in the solo parts, and it is too late now to drill the children for anything else. It's even worse now, with Glen down sick so's Elspeth can't help get up some other program."
"What kind of exercises were you going to have, may I ask? You have had such hard work to keep from telling me at different times that I thought perhaps it was a secret."
"Elspeth wanted it as a surprise, you know, so I thought it would be better not to talk about it even with you. Do you care?"
"Not a bit, dearie, only I had an idea that possibly I might take Elizabeth's place for a few days, with Aunt Pen's help. She used to be a famous driller for children's entertainments, and I know she would be more than pleased to have her finger in this pie, for she admires your young preacher very much, while Beth is an old friend of hers. The children could come here to rehearse—"
"Oh, but wouldn't that be fine! You do have the splendidest thinks! Who'd take Miss Kinney's part? That's the most important of all. Would you?"
"I? Oh, Peace, how could I take part—a cripple? I haven't been outside these gardens for years."
"It's time you had a change, then. It wouldn't hurt you to be rolled down the street in your chair, would it?"
"So everyone could see and pity me?" The voice was full of scathing bitterness.
"So everyone could know and love you, my Lilac Lady! They couldn't help loving you. I wanted to hug you the first time I ever laid eyes on you, and I don't feel any different yet."
"All the world is not like you."
"No, I reckon it ain't, 'cause there's millions and millions of pig-tailed Chinamen and little brown Japs, and Esquimeaux who take baths in whale oil 'stead of water, which ain't a bit like me. But I'm speaking of 'Merican children. They'd love you for the way you sing and tell stories first, most likely; but when they came to know you yourself, they'd like just the bare you. Tony and Ethel and Lottie and George and all the rest of the Home children can't talk enough about you, and Miss Chase says they're 'most wild to think you want 'em to come every week steady this summer. She says a person like you can do 'em more good now than years of sermons after they are older. She calls you the children's 'good angel.' I meant to tell you before, 'cause I thought you'd like to know, but somehow this fuss of Elspeth's made me forget everything else. Say! Why couldn't we get the Home children to help us in our choruses? They usu'ly go to the church just across the street from there on account of it being nearer, but I'm sure the matron would let 'em help us this one time, 'specially as tomorrow is their Children's Sunday. Tony told me."
"That is a splendid plan, Peace. If you think Aunt Pen and I can take Elizabeth's place until Glen is better, I'll send Hicks over to the Home with a note for Miss Chase, and we will have a rehearsal this very afternoon. Can you get me the music?"
"Yes, Elspeth's got the song-books at the parsonage now. There was to be a practise this afternoon for the corn-tatter, but she thought she'd just have to send 'em home as fast as they came. I'll run right over and tell her your plans so's she'll have the children come over here instead. It will be ever so nice to have the boys and girls from the Home take part, 'cause there didn't begin to be enough lilies or poppies or vi'lets, and so many had dropped out of the rose chorus that only Mittie Cole is left. She's a good singer, though, if she doesn't get too scared."
"Well, you run along and get me as many copies of the cantata as you can. Tell Elizabeth I will be very careful of them."
"Shall I tell her you'll take Miss Kinney's part?"
"No, indeed," was the hasty answer. "If she asks about it, you might say that it will be taken care of, so she need not fret the least little bit."
"Oh, and say, what about the flowers for the Home children? I guess likely we can't have them after all, 'cause we're to be dressed up in flowers to represent our parts."
"Flowers? Oh, I will attend to that. Our French maid is perfection when it comes to getting up costumes of any kind."
"It ain't costumes. It's just our flowers, but there are daisies and poppies and vi'lets and maybe others that ain't in blossom yet or else are all done for; so's we would either have to buy them at the greenhouses or get artificial ones."
"That is easily done, dear. Elise can do wonders with crepe paper and the glue-pot. Don't you worry about the Home children if Miss Chase will let us borrow them."
So Peace skipped joyously home to pour out the good news to the preacher's troubled little wife, who was worrying alternately over the hoarse, sick little man lying in her arms and the program for Children's Sunday, which now looked as if it must prove a failure in spite of all the time and hard work she had given it. So when the child explained the Lilac Lady's plans, Elizabeth gladly resigned the cantata music, expressed her sincere thanks by kissing Peace warmly—for she knew, of course, that whatever beautiful plans the young crippled neighbor might have, they were prompted by the active brain under the bobbing brown curls—and returned with a lighter heart to her vigil over Glen.
Miss Chase was glad to lend the children to Hill Street Church, and they were overjoyed at the idea of being loaned. As they proved to be apt pupils, they were already quite familiar with the beautiful songs by the time the original chorus members put in appearance at the parsonage for the afternoon's rehearsal. At first, the regular scholars were inclined to criticize the new plans which dragged in the little Home waifs; but Aunt Pen, who had readily agreed to help, was very tactful, the lame girl very lovable, and in a few minutes all the objections had been swept aside and harmony reigned supreme. Then they settled down to hard work, and how they did practise! Aunt Pen played the piano, Giuseppe took up the refrain on his violin, and the great stone house fairly rang with the chorus of the hundred or more voices. Indifference melted into interest, and interest into enthusiasm. Before the afternoon had drawn to a close, every heart present was fairly aching for the coming of Children's Sunday with its beautiful service of song, and the Lilac Lady was triumphant.
"But who will take Miss Kinney's part?" frowned Marjorie Hopper, the deacon's granddaughter. "She told papa last night that she simply washed her hands of the whole affair."
"Never you fret," said Peace, nodding her head sagely. "Let her wash! We've got someone to take it who can sing lots prettier than she ever thought of doing."
"No, Mildred's got her own part, but—"
There was a sudden movement in the invalid's chair, and the lame girl sat up with a most becoming blush tinting the waxen cheeks. "Can you keep a secret, children?" she asked.
"Of course!" they shouted, gathering around her to hear what the secret might be.
"Well, I am going to—"
"Take Miss Kinney's place," finished Tony, with a deep sigh of anticipated pleasure.
"I knew she'd do it!" crowed Peace, dancing a jig for pure joy.
"Will you?" asked Marjorie.
"Would you like it?"
"Like it! Well, I guess yes!" they shouted again.
"You can beat Miss Kinney all hollow," added George with blunt, boyish admiration.
"I am not figuring on that," smiled the invalid, amused at the thought. "I don't care any more about being 'it,' as you children say. I just want to help Hill Street Church, for it has brought me the sun again when I thought I had lost it forever."
They looked at her mystified, uncomprehending, but no one asked her to explain; they were content to know that she was to take the important solo part which Miss Kinney had thrown down.
Thus the days flew by, and Children's Sunday dawned bright and cool. Glen was almost well, but Elizabeth did not feel that she could leave him in any other hands, and he was still too fretful to attend the service. In her quandary she flew to Aunt Pen, and that worthy lady smiled happily as she answered, "Of course, I can take charge if you wish, and I shall count it a privilege. You have done so much for Myra—"
"Thank Peace for that. She is the one who found out her hiding-place."
"I do thank Peace with all my heart, and it has been a pleasure to help her with her beautiful, generous, impulsive plans. She suggested—well, you must come this morning and hear the children. We simply can't let you off. Sit near the door if you like, so you can take the baby out if he frets,—but I don't think he will. He loves music, and we've quite a surprise in store for the congregation."
And indeed, it proved a great surprise, for no one saw the wheel-chair which Hicks rolled stealthily into the tiny church early that morning and hid so skilfully behind tall banks of fern and great clusters of roses that only the lovely face of the lame girl could be seen by the congregation—she was still very sensitive concerning her sad affliction. And when the happy-hearted children, almost covered with the garlands of flowers they carried, took their places around their queen, the platform looked like some great, wonderful garden, where children's faces were the blossoms.
And the music! How can words describe the joyous anthems which filled the sanctuary with praise and thanksgiving, or the gloriously sweet, silvery tones of the garden queen when she lifted her voice and poured out her soul in song that bright June morning. All the bitterness of the long months of anguish, despair and rebellion had been swept forever out of her heart, and in its place reigned the gladness, the rapture, the supreme joy which triumphs even over death. It seemed almost as if some angel choir had opened the gates of heaven and let the strains of celestial music flood the earth. It was inspiring, uplifting, sublime!
But that was not all. When the beautiful service had ended, and the congregation was slowly filing out into the sunshine again, there stood the wheel-chair by the door, and the lame girl, her blue eyes alight with happiness, her face wreathed in smiles, greeted one by one the friends of the old days from whom she had so long hidden herself away.
HOW THE FOURTH OF JULY MONEY WAS SPENT
"Just one week more and Fourth of July will be here," announced Peace from her seat on the grass, as she counted off the days on her fingers. They were all gathered under the trees that warm afternoon, Aunt Pen and Elizabeth with their sewing, the minister with a magazine from which he had been reading aloud, Giuseppe with his beloved violin, from which he was seldom separated, the lame girl lying in her accustomed place, and Peace and Glen gambolling in the grass at their feet.
"Why, so it will," said the invalid in surprise.
"Do you s'pose grandpa will get back by that time?"
"Should you care if he did not?" asked preacher teasingly.
"John!" reproved Elizabeth, tapping him gently on the head with her thimble. "Aren't you ashamed of yourself to ask such a question?"
"No offense, ladies, no offense intended, I assure you! I merely wondered if Peace could be getting homesick."
"Me homesick! Oh, no, I'm not homesick, but I'll bet the other folks are by this time. I've been gone so long. One week of March, all of April and May, and nearly all of June—that's three months already; and I've never been away from the girls more'n a night or two at a time before."
There was a wistful look in the brown eyes in spite of her emphatic denial that she was homesick, and Elizabeth sought to turn the conversation by saying meditatively, "I wonder what Glen will think of the Fourth of July celebration? He was almost too young last year to notice anything of that sort, and besides, we had a very quiet day at Parker. Everyone had gone to the city for their fun."
"Yes, it was quiet in Parker last year. Hec Abbott was away all day, and I didn't have any fire-crackers," Peace observed; then, noting the broad smile that bathed all the faces, she added hastily, "I s'pose it was just as well, 'cause it was an awful dry summer, and like enough we would have set the place on fire. That's why Gail wouldn't let us have any, but this year we're going to make up for all we've missed—if grandpa gets home in time. We've got dollars and dollars in our bank—Allee and me—left over from dec'rating our room, and we're going to blow it all up celebrating the Fourth, so's to be patriotic. Grandpa says love of country is something every 'Merican needs, so we're beginning young at our house. Grandpa says—"
"What does grandpa say?" boomed a dear, familiar voice behind her, and she bounced to her feet with a wild shriek of joy, for leaning against the iron gates at the end of the walk stood the genial President, while in the carriage just beyond sat Grandma Campbell and the three younger sisters, all fidgeting with eagerness to meet the small maid whose face they had not seen for so long a time.
"Oh, grandpa, grandma, girls, when did you get here? I never so much as heard you drive up!"
Scarcely touching the gravel with her toes, she fairly flew through the gate into the five pair of arms reaching out to embrace her, hugging and kissing them impartially in her delight to be with them again, and asking questions as fast as her tongue could fly. "How did you like the Woods? Where are Gail and Faith? Haven't they come in from the Lake yet? I haven't seen them for three weeks now. Are you perfectly well, Allee? What's the matter with Cherry's nose, grandma? It looks skinned. Does scarlet fever make people grow tall, or what has happened to Hope? My, but you've missed it, being quadrupined up in the house all the spring! Yes, I'd like to have seen the Woods, too, but 's long as you didn't take me, I had a better time here. Oh, it's been jolly. There come Aunt Pen and Elspeth. I s'pose they think you've kissed me enough for one time and you better climb out and go speak to my Lilac Lady. She's been wanting to see you all, 'specially Gail and Faith which ain't here."
They answered her questions as best they could—they had enjoyed their brief sojourn in the Pine Woods very much, for they had found it more than tiresome to be quarantined all those beautiful weeks, but Peace's telephone messages and queer adventures had helped brighten many an hour. They were particularly interested in the Lilac Lady and the little Italian musician, and were anxious to meet the big-hearted Aunt Pen. So they clambered out of the carriage and were properly introduced by the preacher and his wife, while Peace fluttered from one to another of the happy group, too excited to remember such things as introductions.
The lame girl was very sorry to lose this little will-o'-wisp neighbor who had brought so much sunshine into her life during her short stay at the parsonage, but Elizabeth was to visit her every day, and the Campbells promised not only to lend Peace often to the stone house, but also to come with her; so they said good-bye at length, and the curly brown head bobbed out of sight down the long avenue, behind prancing Marmaduke and Charlemagne.
Peace was glad to get home again, and spent the next few days renewing her acquaintance with the place, philosophizing with Gussie, Marie and Jud, and regaling family and servants alike with accounts of her long stay at the parsonage, for it seemed to her that she had been away three years instead of three months.
On the third day she suddenly remembered the approaching Fourth and the generous bank account which she and Allee had kept for just that occasion. So she sat down on the stairs to plan out the list of fireworks that they should buy with their precious hoard, and was busy trying to add up a lengthy column of figures, when she heard Hope in the hall below say, "Yes, grandma, it's a letter from Gail. They aren't coming home for another week unless you want them particularly, because they have discovered a family of eight children out there by the lake who have never had a real Fourth of July celebration in their lives, and Frances is planning a picnic for them and wants the girls to help her out."
Peace heard no more. Frances was planning a gala day for a family of eight children who would have no fireworks for the glorious Fourth. Why could she and Allee not do the same thing for the Home children? There were more than fifty little folks in that institution who would have no celebration either, unless some good fairy provided it. She and Allee would have more than enough fire-crackers for the whole family, even if grandpa did not buy a single bunch himself, and of course he would do his part to make the day a grand success.
She went in search of Allee, unfolded her new plan, and as usual won her ready consent, for the smallest sister found this other child's quaint ideas delightfully thrilling, and was always willing to join her in any escapade, however daring.
"I knew you'd say yes," Peace sighed with satisfaction, when they had agreed upon the list of fire-crackers, caps and torpedoes. "Now the thing of it is, will grandpa be as easy? He has such very queer thoughts on some things. Still, he's usu'ly right, too. I've found out that it is lots better to try to help such folks as the Home children 'stead of tramps and hand-organ men, who are only fakes or lazy-bones. There was Petri, now,—he made loads of money off of Juiceharpie and Jocko, but he was mean as dirt to both of them. The Home children are different. Anything nice you do for them makes them happy and they like you all the better. Well, we better go see grandpa about it first, so's he can't kick after we get started real well with our plans. Besides, I don't s'pose Miss Chase would listen to us if grandpa doesn't know what we are up to."
Hand in hand they descended the stairs to the study and knocked, but the weary President was stretched on his couch fast asleep and did not hear their gentle tapping.
"He's here, I know," Peace declared. "I saw him when he went in, and he told grandma that he should be home the rest of the day."
"P'raps he's upstairs in his room."
"But he ain't, I tell you! Didn't we just come from upstairs! We'd have heard him moving about if he'd been up there."
"Maybe he's asleep."
"I'm going to see."
Cautiously she opened the door a little crack and peeped in. The west window curtains were drawn and the room was very dim, but after a few rapid blinks, Peace became accustomed to the subdued light, and saw the long figure lying on the davenport beside the fireplace, now filled with summer flowers.
"There he is," she whispered triumphantly, and pushing the door further ajar, she stepped across the threshold.
"Oh, we mustn't 'sturb him!" protested Allee, holding back; but Peace serenely assured her, "I ain't going to touch him. I'm just going to stay till he wakes up. Are you coming?"
Allee, followed, still a little reluctant, and the door closed noiselessly behind them. With careful hands, they drew up a long Roman chair in front of the couch, and sat down together to await the President's awakening. The room was almost gloomy in its dimness, and so quiet that they could hear their own breathing. But not another sound broke the silence, save the ticking of the little French clock on the mantel, which drove Peace almost to distraction. Then she chanced to remember a discussion she had heard a long time before, and settling herself with elbows on her knees and her chin in her hands, she fixed her somber eyes full upon the sleeping face before her, and stared with all her might.
"Look at him," she commanded Allee in a stage whisper.
"Just 'cause. Glare for all you're worth!"
"I'll tell you byme-by."
So dutiful Allee "glared for all she was worth," and soon the sleeper grew restless. Then he opened his eyes.
"We did it!" crowed Peace shrilly, spatting her hands together so suddenly that he jumped.
"Did what, you young jackanapes?" he growled, rubbing his sleepy eyes, a trifle vexed at having been disturbed before his nap was out.
"Woke you up with just looking at you! We never touched you at all—just glared and glowered as hard as ever we could, and you woke up like Faith said you would."
"Faith? Did she send you here to wake me up? Have she and Gail come home?"
"Oh, no, they ain't coming till after the Fourth. They're going to stay and help Frances celebrate a family of eight children which have never had any fireworks in all their lives. That's what we came to see you about, but you were asleep and we got tired of waiting, so we tried to see if we could stare you awake, like the girls said folks could do if they looked long and hard enough. It worked."
"Something did," he smiled grimly. "Was it so important that you had to tell it immediately? Couldn't it have kept until dinner hour?"
"You and grandma are invited out for dinner this evening, and anyway, we wanted to have a private conflab with you all by yourself before we told the others our plan."
"Plan? Another plan! My sakes, Peace, where do you keep them all?"
The round, eager face grew long. It wasn't like grandpa to make fun of her. What could be the matter?
"I guess you're not int'rested," she said in heavy disappointment. "Come, Allee, we better be going."
"Indeed you better not!" he cried, thoroughly aroused by her look and tone, and remembering that she was unaccountably sensitive to the moods of her loved ones. "I won't tease you another speck. Come and tell grandpa what it is now that you want me to help with."
"We don't want your help at all," she answered gravely, letting him draw her down to one knee, while he enthroned Allee on the other. "All you've got to do is say yes."
Knowing from experience what wild-cat schemes were often evolved by that tireless brain, he cautiously replied, "'Yes' is an easy word to speak, girlies, but sometimes 'no' is wisest, even if it is hard to learn."
"Oh, I think you will like this plan, grandpa." Peace was warming up to the subject. "It hasn't anything to do with tramps or beggars, and I don't want to give away any more of my clo'es—'nless p'raps that white apron to Lottie, 'cause she likes it so well. This is about the Home children. You know our Fourth of July money?"
"Did you think I had forgotten that?" Inwardly he was shaking with merriment. He never recalled the dedication of the flag room without wanting to shout.
"No, but I did think maybe it had skipped your mind just for a minute."
"Well, it hasn't. What does your Fourth of July money have to do with the Home children and white aprons?"
"White aprons ain't in it—only that one I should like to give Lottie, but that can be any day. What we want to do is share our fire-crackers with the Home children, 'cause the Lady Boards don't allow for such things in raising money to take care of the Home, and so the children won't have any to celebrate with, 'nless their fathers bring them a few, and mostly the fathers are too hard up for that. Allee and me have dollars and dollars in our bank just to cluttervate our love of country with, and we thought this would be a splendid chance to—"
"Spread the d'sease," finished Allee, as Peace paused for want of words to express her ideas.
"It ain't a disease, Allee Greenfield! To make 'em happy—that's what I meant to say."
"A very worthy object, my dear."
"Then you like it and won't kick?"
"If you have considered the matter carefully and want to share your Fourth of July with the Home children, I am perfectly willing, girlies, and will do all I can to help you succeed."
"That's what we wanted to know, grandpa," she cried gleefully. "You'll have all kinds of chances to help, too, 'cause I've just thought of ice-cream and watermelon—if they are ripe by that time—and ice-cream anyway, with a nice picnic dinner to go with the fire-crackers and Roming candles. Some of 'em have never had but two or three dishes of ice-cream in all their lives. Think how tickled they will be! P'raps my Lilac Lady will invite them all over to her house to celebrate, 'cause it always seems so much nicer to go away somewhere for a picnic, even if 'tis only a few blocks. And the stone house has great wide lawns, bigger'n ours, though I like ours best on account of the river, even if we haven't all the lovely flowers which Hicks has planted in his gardens."
Thoughtfully the President lifted the shade behind the couch and looked out across the smooth velvet turf, sloping gently to the river bank in one long, even stretch, broken by an occasional posy-bed, and liberally dotted with giant oaks and stately lindens. It was an ideal spot for a picnic or lawn social such as Peace had described; and Japanese lanterns suspended among the branches and hung about the wide verandas would make it a veritable fairyland for the little folks of the Home, whose gala days were so few and far between.
Unconsciously he spoke aloud: "The mis'es would enjoy it as much as the rest; that is the beauty of it."
"What are you talking about, grandpa?" cried the children, amazed at the remark which seemed to have no bearing whatever on the subject.
"Did I speak?" he asked sheepishly. "I was just wondering how they would enjoy coming here for their celebration instead of going to the stone house—"
"Oh, grandpa! That would be splendid! How did it happen that I never thought of it myself?" Peace exclaimed in comical surprise. "We'll ask Saint Elspeth and John and my Lilac Lady and Aunt Pen to come and help. Hicks took her to church for Children's Sunday. Don't you s'pose he could bring her down here, even if it is three miles?"
"If she will come, dear, we will find a way of bringing her," he promised, drawing the little girls closer to him as if to shield them from such sorrow as had darkened that other young life.
"And that will mean Juiceharpie and Glen will come, too," murmured Allee, who was much charmed with these two little gentlemen, particularly with the Italian waif, whose strange history still seemed like a story-book tale to her.
"Yes, the children will come, too, of course, and we will even borrow the cook and Hicks, if the Lilac Lady will lend them. Do you suppose she will?"
"Let's go and see this very minute," proposed Peace. "The Fourth is too near already to let it get any closer before we find out about these things. And we've still to see Miss Chase about the Home folks coming, you know."
Thoroughly interested now in her project, the President drew forth his watch, glanced at the hour, and rang for Jud to harness the horses.
Of course Miss Chase accepted the invitation at once, and the Home children were jubilant. The little parsonage family was equally charmed with the plan and agreed to help it along all they could. But at the stone house, when the matter was explained, it quite took Aunt Pen's breath away, and for a moment even the Lilac Lady looked as if she were about to refuse. But Giuseppe was radiant, and seizing his beloved violin, ha capered about the white-faced invalid, crying in delight, "An' I feedle an' ma angel seeng. Oh, eet be heaven!"
Perhaps it was his happy face, perhaps it was Peace's wistful entreaty, but at any rate, the lame girl suddenly smiled up at the President beside her and answered heartily, "Tell Mrs. Campbell we shall all be there to help her if the day is clear, and it surely must be when the happiness of so many people depends upon it."
The day was clear and delightfully cool, Jud had accomplished wonders with flags, bunting and lanterns, and the place looked even more like the haunts of fairies than the girls had dared dream. Rustic benches and porch chairs were scattered about under the trees, two immense hammocks hung on the wide veranda, and a strong swing had been fastened among the branches of the tallest oak. The barn chamber, which Peace had planned on having for a playhouse, was swept and scrubbed, furbished up with old furniture from the garret, and stocked with toys of all sorts, that the children who might not care for games all day could find other amusement to fill the hours. The boat-house, too, was put in order and decorated with ferns and flowers, for Hope was to preside here behind great jars of lemonade and frappe, and it proved to be a very popular resort all day long. It is surprising how thirsty one does get at a picnic!