Read CHAPTER VII - PERIWINKLE BREAKS THE ICE of Pearl and Periwinkle , free online book, by Anna Graetz, on ReadCentral.com.

The opening days of December brought in their wake a cold spell that was more severe than had been experienced for many years so early in the season. The thermometer began to drop suddenly Friday evening, and Monday morning found the ponds ice-covered and crowded with merry school children on skates. Winter’s little joke in arriving ahead of scheduled time met with their approval, even though their elders may have had reason to complain. Periwinkle and Pearl were also there, taking their first skating lesson. The teacher, watching at the window, was glad to see that Emil Maise and Washington Grey were helping Peri, while the girls of both “clans” were trying to keep Pearl on her feet.

After school was dismissed Pearl and Peri in company with one of their second cousins (George a freckled-face red-headed youngster) hurried to a pond that glistened in the field back of Robert Grey’s home. The three had been there but a few minutes when a wistful little face peered at them from Mr. Grey’s back fence. It was Kitty Farwell’s second son, timid little Bobby, one of the primary pupils at the village school. Pearl called to him to join them.

Bobby came running gleefully, his red-stockinged legs kicking up the soft snow in mimic clouds. After racing with the little chap for a few minutes, Pearl ran back to the older lads to have her skates put on again. Then laughing and shouting, the three joined hands and skated along the pond edge while little Bobby, left alone, slid nearer and nearer toward the center of the pond. Suddenly a piercing scream reached the ears of the three skaters and they turned just in time to see Bobby’s golden head disappear under the ice. For a moment all stood still as though rooted to the spot; then Pearl and George ran as fast as their legs could carry them to the house of Mr. Grey. Peri, obeying the heroic impulse of his brave heart ran quickly but cautiously toward the thinning ice in the centre of the pond. Bobby had come to the surface and, though much frightened, had managed to grasp the edge of the broken ice. When Periwinkle came within a few feet of the child he flung himself down and wriggled carefully toward Bobby until he was able to get hold of his collar. In this position he managed to hold Bobby’s head above water, but found it perilous to move or attempt to pull him up on the ice. His right arm grew numb with the weight and his left hand, cramped and twisted by his sprawling posture, pained him severely. He knew that help would come soon, but an eternity seemed to pass before he heard Mr. Grey’s encouraging call, “Hold on Peri, just a minute longer.” Periwinkle did hang on desperately until Mr. Grey, with the help of rails and a rope, rescued them both from their dangerous position. Then Periwinkle grew faint and dizzy and knew nothing more until he found himself on Mr. Grey’s couch with Mr. Grey and Pearl bending anxiously over him. Bobby’s mother, having bundled the little fellow up like a department store package, had wheeled his little cot close up to the stove, while Bobby himself howled lustily, really none the worse for his little adventure. But Periwinkle had sprained his left wrist as Mr. Grey saw when he bathed and dressed the injured hand. His first thought was to call the doctor, but before he could do so the boy opened his eyes and begged to be taken home. Thereupon Robert Grey wrapped him up in his great fur coat and carried him as easily as if he were a baby to Miss Hetty’s home.

Hetty met them at the door, her heart cold with fear. She now realized for the first time how dear Myra’s children had become to her. Without a word she admitted Mr. Grey with his burden and calmly heard his account of Periwinkle’s heroic deed. Not until he had placed Periwinkle in a large armchair before the fire and had turned to go did Miss Hetty address him.

“I must thank you,” she said tremulously, holding Peri’s hand tightly in her own, “you have saved his life.”

“As he saved my nephew’s,” replied Robert Grey, but his voice faltered as he realized that for the first time in years he was speaking to her and that she was grateful to him.

Miss Maise however took no notice of his emotion.

“That was his duty,” she said coldly. “Peri is a Maise through and through. He is too brave and kind to let anyone or anything perish. He risked his life to save your nephew as he would have risked his life to save Alois’ terrier.”

Stung by her words and manner, Mr. Grey turned again to go; yet in spite of his rebuff he thought that Hetty looked very beautiful with the sunset glow lighting up her golden head, though as cold as the snow clad peaks lighted up by the gold of the descending sun. It was Periwinkle’s voice however that called him back again. “I’m so glad you came just when you did Mr. Grey,” he murmured gratefully, “and Aunt Hetty and Pearl and I ain’t no end thankful to you for being so kind as to carry me home, when I weigh such a heap, thanks to Aunt Hetty’s corn-bread, the minister says. You do believe in the Fat Woman’s golden rule, don’t you?” and then he added meditatively, “I wonder whether you believe in that other rule, ‘Love your enemies,’ you know?”

The color rose to Miss Hetty’s cheeks at her nephew’s last words and deepened as Mr. Grey said quietly:

“Perhaps I believe in them too much for my own good.” And the glance he directed toward the boy’s aunt was half reproachful, half tender. Hetty turned quickly to wipe a bit of imaginary dust from the table, but Mr. Grey turned once more as he reached the door:

“May I send the doctor up, Miss Maise?”

Miss Maise had been trying to muster up courage to ask him that very thing, for she did not want him to think too harshly of her. Now that he had really asked, however, she replied crisply:

“Thank you, Pearl can go for me. Good evening, Mr. Grey. You have been most kind to Periwinkle.”

Mr. Grey felt as if she had tried to hurry his departure, but, had he been able to read Miss Hetty’s thoughts just then, his heart would have been much lighter.

Naturally enough, Peri became a hero in the village. He had saved the life of one of the Greys at the risk of his own, and the Greys could not but help making a fuss over him. The village children had learned already to love the kindhearted boy and his sweet sister; now their parents came to regard them with the same affection.

This change was noticed by the minister and in his next letter to his son he wrote: “The barriers between the two factions are slowly crumbling, simply because those children will not recognize them. Strangely enough, the strongest resistance is made by Hetty and Robert Grey, but Pearl or her brother will take them by surprise some time and then all will be well. I must tell you of something that will cause you much pleasure. It seems that the children’s mother had told them of our Christmas services here and they were making great plans for Christmas eve. They have never seen a Christmas tree. Miss Hetty had not the heart to tell them that for three years we have had no Christmas Eve service, neither had Robert Grey nor I. So one Sunday when Peri was home with his sprained wrist and Pearl of course was with him I made one final appeal to the congregation after the Sunday-school service. I could see that it was what they had all been longing for. To show you how both families feel toward those children I need mention only that Eldon Maise and Robert Grey, almost in one breath, made the motion that we have children’s services on Christmas Eve this year. You must hurry home for the event.”

When Joe finished reading these good news he indulged in a regular dance of delight, waltzing his table and other articles of furniture around in such a way that, had they been possessed of the power of speech, a very strong protest would have been forthcoming.

“Hurrah! Peri has broken the ice at last,” he exclaimed. “At least he has cracked it and it won’t take much more to finish the job. Won’t there be a big splash though when the Maises and Greys all tumble in. Those circus children of Myra Maise are the best things that ever strayed into the parish.”