Early in the morning, Hicks brought the preacher's family, Aunt Pen and his young mistress in the great red automobile, which was now used so seldom that Peace had not even discovered its existence; but when she saw it, she let out a whoop of surprise that startled the rest of the household, and dashed down the driveway to meet it, screaming shrilly, "When you've dumped out that load, Hicks, you better begin going after the Home children. It will take Duke and Charley a long time to bring them here alone; and besides, I'll bet none of the boys and girls there have ever ridden in an auto yet. I know I haven't."
"That is a good idea, Peace," said the lame girl happily. "I never would have thought of it. Those who drive down in the carriage can go home in the auto, so they will all get a ride. Just put the baskets and traps on that table, Hicks, and start as soon as possible."
An hour later all the guests had assembled, and the day's program was begun. Of course there were some mishaps. Was there ever a picnic without them? But no one was badly hurt. It was Giuseppe's first celebration of Independence Day with gunpowder and torpedoes, and in his excitement and delight at the noise he was making, he thoughtlessly thrust a stump of burning punk into his trousers' pocket along with a bunch of fire-crackers, and would have been seriously burned, no doubt, had not Cherry promptly turned the hose on him. As it was, he was nearly drowned, and very much frightened, but soon recovered from the shock, and returned with energy to his crackers again.
Lottie fell through the hay-mow in the barn, trying to escape her pursuer in a lively game of tag. George tumbled into the river and was rescued just in time. Tony got hit by the swing-board and lost one tooth as a result. Allee sat down in a tub of lemonade, and Peace toppled out of a tree into a trayful of ice-cream which Jud had just dished up. But these were mere trifles, swallowed up in the greater events of the day—the boisterous games on the smooth lawn, the picnic dinner under the trees, the beautiful music made by the lame girl and the little songbird of Italy; the destruction of the sham fort built by the dignified doctor and sedate young minister; the row on the river in the late afternoon; the gorgeous beauty of the place when the lanterns were lighted at dusk; and, fitting climax of that wonderful day, the brilliant display of fireworks which Jud set off when finally darkness had fallen over the land.
But like all happy days, this Fourth of July came to an end at last, the guests departed, and Peace, walking slowly up the path from the gate, felt suddenly tired. Slipping her hand into the doctor's big one, she sighed, "Well, it's all over with! Our flag room money has gone up in smoke and down in ice-cream."
"Are you sorry?" asked the President, a little surprised at her long-drawn sigh and tone of regret.
"Oh, no, I ain't sorry for that part of it. I'm sorry the day is gone. That's the trouble with having a good time. It always comes to an end."
"But the memory of it still lives. Think how many hearts you have made happy today."
"Yes, that's so," she answered, brightening visibly; "and the best of it is, there's at least one more patriarch. Juiceharpie has always been an Italian till today, but after this he's going to be an American. The fire-crackers did it."
PEACE GIVES THE LILAC LADY AN IDEA
The Home Missionary Society of the South Avenue Church was holding its monthly meeting in the Campbell parlors, and Peace, feeling very forlorn and left out, because grandma had suggested that she better join the sisters in the barn playhouse, wandered down to the gate and stood looking up the street in search of something to occupy her attention. She was tired of playing games in the barn, she had read the latest St. Nicholas from cover to cover, and the postman had not yet brought the Youth's Companion, although this was the regular day for it. Anyway, she didn't care to read. She would rather stay and listen to what the women in the house were talking about, but if grandma did not want her, she certainly should not bother them with her presence. Likely the meeting would be very dry; it usually was when Mrs. Roberts stayed away, and she had not put in appearance yet.
Grandma had half promised that she might visit the Lilac Lady that afternoon, but for some reason had changed her mind and put off the visit until the morrow. Ho, hum! What was a small girl to do to amuse herself this warm day, when she had already done everything she could think of, and had been forbidden to go where she most wanted to go?
Slowly she unlatched the gate and strolled down the avenue, swinging her white sunbonnet by one string, and whistling plaintively under her breath. The wide street, shaded by immense oaks and maples, felt deliciously cool and restful, but it was also very quiet, and Peace had wandered several blocks without meeting a soul, when without warning she stumbled over two mites of tots, almost hidden in the rank grass and weeds in front of a ragged-looking unkempt little cabin of a house, which in its better days had evidently been used for a barn. The children were as much surprised as Peace, and after one frightened glance at the intruder, they both buried their heads in their patched aprons and cowered still lower among the weeds. But from the fleeting glimpse Peace had caught of the little faces, she knew they had been crying, and her first thought was, "They are lost."
Impulsively she kneeled on the walk beside them and coaxingly asked, "What is the trouble, little girls? Have you run away?"
"No, we ain't!" retorted the older child, lifting a streaked, tear-stained face to eye her questioner indignantly. "We ain't girls, either! I am, but he ain't!"
"Oh," murmured Peace, much abashed by her fierce reception, "I took him for a girl on account of his clo'es. He's wearing dresses."
"He ain't old enough for pants. He's only two."
"Oh, mercy! He's lots bigger than Glen. But then Glen won't be two until next January."
"Is Glen your brother?" asked the other girl, somewhat mollified by the friendliness of the stranger's voice.
"No, he's the minister's little boy which we used to have in Parker where we lived 'fore we came here. What's your baby's name?"
"His first name, I mean."
"That's his first name. Rivers Dillon, and I'm Fern."
"Oh! They're as bad as ours, ain't they? I'm always running up against horrid names. Gail says it's 'cause I am always looking for them—"
"Our names ain't horrid!" Fern Dillon bounced off the grass like an angry hornet, then collapsed beside the baby brother, who evidently was not given much to talking, for he had not said a word, but simply stared in round-eyed surprise at the pretty stranger child. "Oh, dear, everybody is so mean!"
"Fern, what have I done? I didn't mean to be hateful," cried Peace remorsefully. "Please, I'm sorry I've made you mad. Don't mind anything I said. I've always hated my own name so bad that I am always glad when I can find a worse one. That is all I meant."
Strange to say, Fern's wrath was at once appeased, in spite of the explanation, and she smiled faintly as she brushed away the fresh tears. "I thought you was going to be just like Mrs. Burnett," she explained. "She's always scolding mamma 'cause she won't put Rivers and me in a Home—"
"In a Home?" cried Peace in horrified accents. "What for?"
"So's she can get more work to do. Lots of people won't give her their washing 'cause she has to take both of us with her, and folks think three is too many to feed, I guess."
"Is your papa dead?"
"He—he's gone. Mabel Cartwell says he's in jail," her voice dropped to an awed whisper; "but when I asked mamma, she just cried and cried. Now she's sick and they are going to take her to a hospital, and I don't know what Rivers and me'll do. Mrs. Burnett says of course we can't go with her, 'cause there ain't any sickness the matter with us, and—and—oh, we can't stay with her! She shakes Rivers for everything he touches. Oh dear, oh dear!"
"Have they—taken your mamma—away yet?"
"No, she's in there—"
"In that barn?"
"That's where we live since papa—went away."
"I'm going to ask her if you can't go home with me. Grandma will know—"
"You mustn't bother mamma," cried Fern, clutching Peace about the ankles as she started toward the sagging door of the ramshackle old house. "Mrs. Burnett will chase you out with the broom like she did us. And 'sides, mamma won't know you. She doesn't even know Rivers and me—her own little children."
Peace pondered. Here was an unlooked-for predicament. Would she be doing wrong if she took the brother and sister away without saying anything to the mother who did not know her own children any longer? She might speak to Mrs. Burnett, but how about that broomstick? For a moment she stood irresolute, scratching her head thoughtfully. Then with characteristic energy and decision, she grabbed Rivers with one hand and Fern with the other, and trotted off down the street, saying briefly, "I'm going to show you to grandma. She will know what to do."
"Will you bring us back again?"
"Course! You don't think I am a kidnapper, do you? That's what Mittie Cole called me when I thought I was going to adopt the twins that were only runaways. Mittie got to like me afterwards, though."
"I like you now."
"Of course. Most folks do, but it takes a longer time with some to make up their minds. I'm glad you are quick at d'ciding. We turn this corner."
Hurrying them along as fast as Rivers' short legs could toddle, she at length reached the big, old-fashioned house, and burst in upon the Missionary Meeting with a torrent of jumbled explanation.
"Here's two folks that need home missionarying if anybody does. Their mother is so sick she doesn't know people any more, and the father is either in jail or heaven. Mrs. Burnett chases 'em out of the house with the broomstick, and I borrowed them to show you just how ragged and dirty they really are, so's you will know I ain't got hold of a fake mistake again. They live in a horrid little barn of a house, quite a piece from here, and the hospital is coming after the mother any time. They won't take Fern and Rivers, of course, 'cause they are both well, but I thought likely Mrs. Burnett might begin to use the broomstick again if the children were left with her, so I brought 'em along with me until you could decide what to do with them. They don't want to go to a Home, and I don't want them to, either." Her breath gave out, and the astonished ladies recovered their poise sufficiently to ask questions until the whole pitiful tale had been unravelled.
"We'll send a committee at once to investigate," proposed the fat secretary, whom Peace disliked for no reason whatever.
"Then send somebody who's got a heart," suggested the little maid. "This is a truly sick woman which needs help. I'll show you the place. Fern, you and Rivers stay here with grandma till I get back. Ladies, who are the committee?"
Spurred on by Peace's enthusiastic leadership, the society hastily appointed a committee, and they departed on their errand of mercy. The house was even more squalid than Peace had pictured it, and the woman's case more desperate. An hour later a subdued, sympathetic trio of ladies, with Peace in tow, returned to the Campbell residence with their report.
"It is worse than we expected," said the chairman in a voice that trembled in spite of her efforts to speak naturally. "The father is in—Stillwater. Embezzlement. The mother, destitute, without relatives or friends, naturally a frail little woman, and now ill with typhoid, brought on by overwork and anxiety. These two children dependent upon her, and none of the neighbors really situated so they can take care of them. We secured a bed in Danbury Hospital for the mother, and told the authorities that we would be responsible for the babies. We simply could not think of leaving them there to be buffeted about by unwilling neighbors—no telling how long the mother will be unable to take care of them, if she ever is again. Now, the question is, what shall we do with these two tots?"
Immediately there was a buzz of comment, and an avalanche of theory and advice began to flow from fifty tongues.
Peace, interested in the controversy, had been banished to the dining-room to amuse Rivers, who had developed an unlimited propensity for mischief-making since his arrival at the big house, but through the open door she caught bits of the conversation, and her heart beat quick with fear.
"They are trying to passle Fern and Rivers off among different families," she said with bated breath. "What a shame that would be! Mr. Dillon in Stillwater, the mother in Danbury Hospital, Fern with Mrs. York, and Rivers at the Weston's. Oh, they mustn't part Fern from her baby! They can't get along without each other. Ain't it too bad we don't have a Home around here like they've got in Kentucky! Why didn't I think of that before?"
She gathered Fern and Rivers under her wing once more, and noiselessly departed from the house by way of the kitchen.
"Where are we going this time? Home?" questioned Fern, loath to leave the great house so full of beautiful things for one to admire.
"Not yet. I've just got a think. I b'lieve I know a lady which'll take you both till your mother gets well. She's lame herself, but Aunt Pen isn't, and they both love children. You'll have to ride on the cars. Come on, don't be afraid. I've done it lots of times and I never get lost."
Somewhat reluctantly, Fern allowed herself and brother to be lifted onto the car by the big conductor, who evidently knew Peace, for he greeted her with a cheery shout, "Hello, my hearty! Going to see your Lilac Lady again?"
"Yes," Peace answered promptly. "I've got another bunch of orphans—that is, they will be until their mother gets well and the father comes back, if he can." She remembered at that moment that she did not yet understand what had actually happened to the breadwinner of this unfortunate family. "And I knew my Lilac Lady would be glad to take care of them for a little while, so's they wouldn't have to be sep'rated."
With that, she ushered the children to seats inside the moving car, and they were quickly whirled away to the corner where stood Teeter's Pharmacy. Here they were helped off by the genial conductor, and Peace led the way up the hill to the beautiful stone house which could be plainly seen from the roadway now, because the thick cedar hedges had all been cut down, and only tall iron palings enclosed the lovely gardens.
Under her favorite oak by the lilac hedge lay the lame girl in her prison-chair, looking whiter and frailer than ever before, and Peace stopped in the midst of a rapturous kiss to ask fearfully, "Have you been sick again?"
"No, dear," smiled the marble lips. "I am a little tired these days, but perfectly well. Whom have you here?"
"Fern and Rivers Dillon. Their mother is dreadfully sick with tryfoid fever and their father is in—well, it's either a jail or a graveyard. I found them crying 'cause Mrs. Burnett had driven them out of the house with the broomstick, and when I took them home to the lady missionaries who are meeting at our house this afternoon, they began planning right away to divide them up among some families of our church. I couldn't bear to think of that, so I brought them up to you. I knew you'd be glad to keep them till the mother gets well, and they don't want to go to the Children's Home a bit. Rivers can't keep still a minute, but I know how he feels. It's the same way with me. At first I couldn't see how any mother would name her little boy such a name as that, but now I know. He upset three vases of flowers in the reception hall, and spilled a glass of frappe down his dress when I tried to give him some to drink, and pulled over the bird-cage, so's the water was all spilled, and stepped into the dog's drinking trough at the back door while I was trying to get them out of the house without the ladies seeing me. He makes rivers out of every bit of water he comes near."
"Doesn't your grandmother know where you have gone?" asked the invalid in surprise, not half understanding what Peace was trying to tell her.
"Why, no! She's one of the missionaries herself. She might think I ought to let her s'ciety look after these children as long as they've got hold of the mother already; but I—they'd be sep'rated as sure as fits, and—just look how teenty Rivers is to be taken away from all his folks at once."
"I don't want him tookened away," Fern spoke up. "Mamma told me to stay with him all the time, and I said I would. He can't talk much yet and there ain't anybody else can tell what he wants, now that mamma is sick."
"Come here, dear." The lame girl held out her thin, blue-veined hands, and little, homeless Fern ran to her with a desolate cry.
Peace was satisfied, and dropping down cross-legged in the grass at their feet, she remarked thoughtfully, "I had to bring them here, you see. Our house is full already, and grandpa says grandma has all she can 'tend to with the six of us. The parsonage is too small to hold any more, and besides, Saint John is away on his vacation, so the house is shut up for a few days. I knew Aunt Pen could mother a dozen, and I knew you'd want her to if she got the chance, so I brought 'em along.
"Isn't it too bad there isn't a nice Children's Home in this state like there is in Kentucky or some place down South, where one lady has forty daughters? They ain't any of 'em her very own. She's really just the matron of the Home, like Miss Chase is of our Children's Home, only they don't call the place a Home. The lady is just like a real mother to them, and she won't let any of her girls be adopted away from her. She just takes care of them until they are old enough to look out for themselves or get a husband to look out for them. Then she takes some more in their place and keeps on that way. And they just love her to pieces. They wear nice clothes and she teaches 'em music and manners and how to keep house and makes useful wives out of them. Oh, that's the kind of a Home I'd like to have here! Then Lottie could live there 'stead of being sent to the 'sylum."
"Lottie sent to the asylum? Why, what do you mean, Peace?" cried the startled invalid, sitting almost upright in her chair.
"Haven't you heard?" It was Peace's turn to look surprised.
"Not a word of that sort."
"Why, you know Lottie is a norphan, and when she was a baby somebody adopted her, but her new mother died last winter, and her new father put her in the Home 'cause he couldn't take care of her himself. Now he's been killed on the railroad, and his people don't want to be bothered with her, so she's to be sent to a Norphan 'Sylum, 'cause the Home takes only children who have somebody who will look after them a little. Lottie feels dreadfully bad and has 'most cried her eyes out already. I couldn't get her even to smile when I was up there this week. She is going to leave next Wednesday."
For a long moment the lame girl lay in deep thought, still holding Fern's chubby hand in hers, though she had evidently forgotten all about the little stranger children in her concern for the friendless orphan, Lottie. When she spoke, she asked absently, "What was that you were telling me about the Kentucky lady? Where did you hear about it?"
"That girls' Home in Kentucky? Oh, grandma was reading about it in Blank's Magazine the other day, and grandpa said that's the way all children's Homes ought to be carried out. Then the boys and girls would be happier and grow up into better men and women. That's what I think, too."
"We take Blank's Magazine," said the lame girl irrelevantly. "Here comes Aunt Pen. We must tell her about Fern and Rivers, and she will telephone the ladies that they are safe with us. Poor little waifs! You are home now—until the dear mother is able to care for you again. Then we'll see."
That was the beginning of it, but the next time Peace visited the Lilac Lady, she found a crew of noisy carpenters at work on the stone house, and in answer to her surprised questions, the invalid said, "This is to be an Orphan Asylum, dear. We shall not call it by that ugly name, but that is what it is really to be, and we have already two real orphans, not counting Fern and Rivers, who may be here for only a few weeks or months."
"Who are the orphans?"
"Giuseppe and Lottie."
"Oh, my Lilac Lady! How did you ever think of such a splendid plan?"
"I didn't, Peace. It was you."
"Yes, dear. When you told me about that Kentucky Home which all the children love, I wondered why Aunt Pen would not make a good mother for such a place in this state, and when I asked her, she was so happy!"
"But you? Where will you live if you turn your lovely house into a norphan 'sylum?"
"Right here—till the time comes to go home. It won't be long now, but I shall be content if I know the fortune which failed to make me happy is bringing joy and sunshine into the lives of scores of homeless children—hundreds in time, perhaps—and is giving them the education and self-reliance and refinement and love which will make them noble citizens of a noble country."
Peace only vaguely understood her words, but it was clear to her that the stone mansion was to become a home nest now for helpless little ones whose own parents had been taken from them, and the thought that she had had even a small share in bringing to pass this splendid plan sent a thrill of joy singing through her heart. Hugging her knees together with both lithe brown arms, she puckered her lips and began to whistle the refrain:
"'Sca-atter sunshine All along the wa-ay; Cheer and bless and bri-ighten Every passing da-ay.'"
The lame girl joined in with her rich, sweet tones, and they sang it through to the end. Then as silence once more fell upon them, the young mistress of the place dropped her waxen hand lightly upon the brown curls resting against the arm of her chair, and said musingly, "That is to be the motto of our Home, dear. The song has brought me more happiness than any other thing in my life, I think. I want to pass it on."
"And let me help," eagerly put in Peace.
THE LILAC LADY FALLS ASLEEP
So the summer swept rapidly on. The remodelled stone mansion was finished at last and daintily furnished to meet every requirement. There were school-rooms and work-rooms and play-rooms. There were parlors and pianos and piazzas. There were long windows and wide doors everywhere. The whole place was filled with sunshine and fresh air. Rare flowers and ferns from the conservatory peeped out from every corner; the polished floors were covered with thick, soft carpets; easy chairs and tempting couches were harmoniously arranged about the rooms. A wing of the basement was converted into a gymnasium with a brave array of dumbbells, Indian clubs, trapezes and ladders. The great house was complete in every detail, and all Martindale was interested in this unique Home which the Lilac Lady was founding. But, though the offers to help were many, the lame girl refused them all and pushed the work with untiring energy.
Lottie had joined the three waifs already in the Palace Beautiful, as the Greenfield girls called it, although its real name was to be Oak Knoll; and one other little orphan maid had slipped in through the open doors. Aunt Pen had been persuaded to take a flying trip to the southern Home which Peace had so enthusiastically described, and returned fired with zeal for the new work which held so many opportunities. Plans were discussed, a Board of Directors elected, the business routine adjusted, and everything legalized in order that there might be no hitch in proceedings after the institution had been opened to the public.
The lame girl developed a surprising business ability, and insisted upon looking after all the details personally, seeming to grow stronger as the work progressed, and she saw her plans nearing completion. Even Aunt Pen was deceived by the delicate flush which tinted the once colorless cheeks, and the keen, alive look in the deep blue eyes; but the girl herself understood, and so hurried carpenters and lawyers alike, until at length everything was done, and Oak Knoll had been formally dedicated and opened for its noble work.
Autumn lingered long that year, cool and calm, as if to make up for the fierce heat of the summer months. But at last the frosts came and tipped every leaf and flower with gorgeous colors; the grass grew brown on the hillside; the brilliant foliage of the trees fluttered down with every breath of wind that stirred; and the crisp, hazy air was filled with the smell of fall. Then, when the chill of winter seemed upon them, the warm days of Indian Summer again held it in check and revived the fading flowers for one last bloom before going to sleep under blankets of ice and snow.
Such a day was it the Sunday following Gail's twentieth birthday; and after dinner had been served, the family repaired to the wide veranda with books and papers to enjoy the freshness of the air and drink in the glories of the autumn afternoon, while they read or talked together, feeling that this was the last time for many weeks that they could sit in this fashion out-of-doors.
But Peace was restless. There was a subtle something in the smell of the hazy atmosphere which appealed to her forcefully, and leaving the family gathered about the President on the piazza, she wandered down the driveway to the great bed of chrysanthemums growing in a sheltered nook where the frosts had not yet found them, and stood gloating over their splendid blossoms.
"Chrysanthemums, chrysanthemums, oh, you dear chrysanthemums," she hummed to herself, then stooped and plucked one long spray, another, a whole armful, and with shining eyes she returned to the porch.
"My, what beauties!" exclaimed Faith, looking up from her book as Peace passed. "Why didn't you leave them in the garden? They look so cheerful growing, now that all the other flowers are gone."
"Hicks is coming after me this afternoon to visit Palace Beautiful, and the Lilac Lady loves chrysanthemums."
She thrust her head deep into her bouquet, and they laughed at the roguish, round face peeping from between the great yellow and white balls. It was indeed a pretty picture, for both flowers and face seemed radiating sunshine.
The chug-chug of an approaching automobile drew their attention to the road, and Allee exclaimed, "There's Hicks now!"
"It's Hicks' machine, but that ain't him driving," answered Peace, studying the car slowing up in front of the gate. "Hicks always comes up the driveway, too. Why, it's Saint John and Elspeth!" They waved their hands at the little group on the porch, and the doctor walked down to the gate to meet the minister, who had leaped to the ground from his place at the wheel.
"Run, get your hat and jacket, Peace," called Mrs. Campbell, as the child started as if to join her friends in the street, so she darted into the house for her wraps, impatient to be off in the throbbing, red car. She was back in a moment, her jacket thrown over one arm and her hat dangling down her back, but as she leaped onto the step beside Elizabeth, she was vaguely conscious that both the preacher and his wife looked strangely exalted, and they greeted her more tenderly and with less boisterous fun than was usual. Indeed, Saint John hugged her so tightly that it hurt, but she could not rebuke him, because he was speaking to the family gathered at the gate, and she caught the words, "Only an hour ago. We have just come from there."
She wondered a little what they were talking about, but before she could ask, the preacher sprang to his place, released the wheel, and the car leaped forward as if alive, toppling Peace into Elizabeth's arms. When she had righted herself, she demanded, "Where is Glen?"
"We left him with Mrs. Lane."
"That's queer. Is he sick?"
"Oh, no, but we thought it best to leave him at the parsonage this time," she answered evasively. "Those are beautiful chrysanthemums you have."
"Ain't they, though? Jud does have the best luck with his asters and chrysanthemums. These beat Hicks' all hollow. Where is Hicks? I 'xpected he'd come for me today. I didn't know Saint John could drive well enough yet."
"Hicks was—busy. So we came."
"I s'pose that's why you left Glen. You didn't want to take the chances with Saint John driving the car. Is that it?"
Elizabeth smiled faintly. "No, we never once thought of that, Peace. Mrs. Lane offered to stay with him, and so we let her."
"Oh! Well, I s'pose I would have too, if I'd been you, 'cause 'tain't often Mrs. Lane makes such an offer," Peace chattered on. "Allee wanted to come today, but grandma said the Lilac Lady had asked for only me, so she wouldn't listen to Allee's going, too, I should like to have had her."
"She can come Tuesday."
"What's going to happen Tuesday?" asked the child, surprised at having so definite a date named. Elizabeth caught her breath sharply, but at that moment the auto drew up in front of the iron gates, and there stood Aunt Pen on the walk waiting for them, smiling her gentle smile of welcome, a little sweeter, perhaps, and infinitely more tender, for, like Moses, she had just come from her Mount of Transfiguration.
Peace spied her first. "How is my Lady, my Lilac Lady?" she cried, springing into her arms and hugging her warmly. "It's been so long since I've seen her! Is she lots better, Aunt Pen?"
"She is perfectly well now, darling," the woman answered, closing her fingers tightly over the little brown hand in her own, and leading the way up the path to the house.
"She's not under the trees, and—"
"It is November, childie. Have you forgotten?" interrupted Elizabeth.
"So it is! Winter is 'most here. But look at the lovely chrysanthemums I've brought her. It isn't too cold for them yet. Won't she be pleased?"
"I am sure she will," smiled Aunt Pen, and involuntarily she lifted her eyes to the clear blue sky above.
The hall, as they entered its dim coolness, was deserted, and though Peace looked inquiringly about her for her small playmates who usually rushed eagerly to meet her, not one was in sight. From the rooms above, however, floated the sweet strains of Giuseppe's violin and the unrestrained, riotous melody of the lame girl's pet canary, and Peace skipped lightly up the wide stairway, eager to greet each member of this happy family.
The door of the invalid's chamber stood open, and beside the window, shaded by the great oak, still hung with autumn colors, lay the beloved form of the Lilac Lady among her silken cushions. She was clad in simple white, with the heavy bronze braids trailing across her shoulders, and the waxen fingers twined in a familiar pose upon her breast. A soft smile wreathed the colorless lips, but the beautiful blue eyes were closed in slumber, and she looked as if she were resting after a hard-fought battle. So lovely a picture did she present that Peace paused on the threshold, and the gay words of greeting bubbling up to her lips died away in a deep breath of awe.
The room was flooded with autumn sunshine and banked with the flowers the invalid loved best; a plate of luscious fruit stood on the table beside the wheel-chair, a late magazine lay open on the floor close by, and Gypsy sang deliriously from his perch in the big bay window. All this Peace saw, and more. The thin fingers clasped a knot of the once-despised, bright-faced pansies, and a single white one nestled in the red-brown waves at the left temple.
"Oh," breathed Peace, scarcely above a whisper, "isn't she beautiful? She got tired of watching and fell asleep while she was waiting for me!"
Softly she tiptoed across the thick carpet and laid her burden of golden chrysanthemums in the arms of the sleeping girl, and once more repeated the words, "She fell asleep while she was waiting for me! My Lilac Lady has fallen asleep!"
"Yes," said Aunt Pen softly. "'He giveth His beloved sleep.'"