Read CHAPTER I - THE GIRL WHO TOOK A DARE of Heart of Gold , free online book, by Ruth Alberta Brown, on

“Attention, children!  Close copy books and pass them to the right.  Monitors, collect.”

Tired Miss Phelps laid down her crayon, with one sweep of her arm erased the letter exercises she had so laboriously traced on the blackboard for her fifty pupils to copy, wiped the clinging chalk from her dry, chapped hands, and sank wearily into her chair beside the littered desk, as she issued her commands in sharp, almost impatient tones.  Her head ached fiercely, her brain seemed on fire, the subdued scratching of scores of pens in unskilled fingers set her nerves on edge, and she was ready to collapse with the strain of the day.  Yet another hour remained before the afternoon session would draw to a close.  How was she ever to hear the stupid geography recitation, or listen to the halting, singsong voices stumble through pages of a Reader too old for their understanding?

Again she glanced at the clock.  A full hour of torture, and she was simply longing for bed!  A sudden determination seized her.  She would read to her scholars instead of listening to the lessons they had prepared to recite!  So, selecting a book from the row on her desk, she waited until the blotted, inky copy books had been gleefully whisked shut by their owners, passed across the aisle and gathered in neat piles by the monitors, who creaked solemnly up to the corner table and laid them beside the day’s written exercises for the teacher’s inspection later.  Then they clattered back to their seats and waited with expectant eyes fixed upon Miss Phelps for the next command.

“Take rest position!”

There was a brisk scraping of feet, a rustling of dresses, and fifty active bodies sat stiffly erect with hands clasped on the desk-tops in front of them.  No,-not fifty.  One child, a brown-eyed girl with short, riotous curls tumbling about her round, animated face, sat heedless of her surroundings, staring out of the window near her into the bright Spring sunshine, and from her rapt expression it was evident that her thoughts were far away from school and lessons.

Miss Phelps waited an instant, but the child was lost in her dreams and did not feel the unusual silence of the room.  Following the gaze of the intent brown eyes, the teacher glanced out of the window and saw a flock of pigeons disporting themselves on the barn roof across the road; and as they fluttered and strutted, scolded and cooed, the little watcher at her desk unconsciously imitated their movements, thrusting out her chest, cocking her head pertly on one side and nodding and pecking at imaginary birds, just as her pretty feathered friends were doing as they basked in the warm sunshine.  Involuntarily the woman smiled.  Then, as the girl continued to mimic the doves, she tapped her foot impatiently on the floor and repeated emphatically, “Children, take rest position!”

Stealthily the other pupils let their eyes rove about the room in search of the guilty member, for it was very plain from the teacher’s manner that someone was out of order.  Instantly a pencil rapped sharply on the desk, and forty-nine pair of inquisitive eyes jerked quickly to the front again.  But the fiftieth pair continued to stare out of the window, until in exasperation the woman’s voice rasped out, “Peace Greenfield, will you please give me your undivided attention?”

With a start of horrified surprise the culprit awoke from her daydreams, to discover that she was flapping her outstretched arms in either aisle like some exultant cockerel just ready to crow.  Abashed and dismayed at having been caught napping, she thrust her hands hastily into her desk, seized her geography, and scrambling to her feet, started for the front of the room, remembering that her class was the next to recite.  The children tittered, and Peace, much amazed to find that no one followed, paused uncertainly, searched her brain desperately to recall the teacher’s command, and then glibly recited, “Brazil is bounded on the north by-”

The scholars burst into a howl of derision, and poor Peace slumped into her seat, covered with confusion.  Even the tired teacher smiled at the child’s discomfort, but immediately rapped for order, and said sternly, “Rest position, please!  The geography and reading classes will not recite this afternoon.  I shall read to you from our book of mythology, and when I have finished, I shall expect you to repeat the story.  What was the last we read about?”

“The wooden horse in the siege of Troy,” shouted a score of voices.

“Correct,” smiled the teacher faintly.  “And today I shall tell you about Ganymede and how he was connected with the other characters we have been studying.  Ganymede-repeat the name after me.”

“Ganymede,” roared the obedient scholars.

“Ganymede,” whispered Peace to herself.  “Ganymede-what a funny name!  I wonder if he was any relation to those folks Hope was talking about last night.  They were Mèdes and-and Persians.  I d’clare, I ’most forgot that word.  Hist’ry like Hope’s must be int’resting.  I’ll be glad when I get big enough to study about the Goffs and Salts and-and Sandals and the rest of that bunch.”  She meant Goths and Celts and Vandals, but somehow words had a bad habit of getting sadly mixed up in that active brain which tried to absorb all it heard; and she was always making outrageous speeches in consequence.

“I don’t like mythology.  What do we care about Herc’les and his sore heel, or Helen or Hector?-I wonder if that’s the man Hec Abbott was named after?  I’d rather-My! what a lovely day it is for March!  No wonder the doves are talking.  Wouldn’t I like to be up on that barn roof in the sun!  Bet I’d do some talking too.  S’posing I was a really dove.  What fun it would be to fly away, away up in the blue sky.  I wonder if they ever bump into the clouds.  There goes a white cloud skimming right over the sun.  Now it’s gone and we’re in the shine once more.  Queer how it can shine in spots and be cloudy in spots at the same time.  That’s like laughing with one eye and bawling with the other.  I don’t b’lieve a body could ever do that.  Wish I could, just to see what it would feel like.

“’Twon’t take many days like this ’fore the grass begins to grow and the leaves to come.  The trees are budded big now.  I am crazy wild for the cowslips and vi’lets to get here.  Hicks promised to help us plant some flowers on our Lilac Lady’s grave.  It looks so bare and lonely now with the snow all gone, and only that tall white stone to tell where she is.  I know where the loveliest yellow vi’lets grow.”

“Peace Greenfield!”

Again Peace came to the earth with an abruptness that left her breathless and quaking.  “Yes, ma’am,” she responded meekly.

“You weren’t paying attention, were you?” demanded the long-suffering teacher.

Peace pondered.  She could scarcely say “yes” truthfully, and yet her intentions were good.  She had not meant to lose herself again, nor did realize how very little she had heard of the story which the teacher had been reading.

“Were you?” repeated Miss Phelps relentlessly.

“Partly,” Peace responded haughtily.

The woman gasped; then as the scholars giggled, she said sternly, “Tell us what the story was about.”

Peace opened her mouth.  “Gan-” she began and halted.  What had the story been about?  Rapidly she searched through her memory.  It was such a funny word.  How could she have forgotten it?

The children sniggered audibly.

“Gan-what?” urged the weary teacher sarcastically.

O, yes, now she remembered it!  “Gandermeats and pigeons,” triumphantly finished Peace, with a saucy toss of her head.

There was a moment of dead silence in the room; then a jeering shout rose from forty-nine throats.  But it was instantly quelled by a sharp rap on the desk, and when order was restored, Miss Phelps said encouragingly, “Ganymede and what, Peace?  Surely not pigeon!  You didn’t mean that, now did you?”

But Peace had come to the end of her resources.  If it wasn’t pigeons, what was it?

“Tell her, children,” prompted Miss Phelps, as Peace floundered helplessly.

“An eagle,” yelled the chorus of eager voices.

An eagle!  Queer, but she had heard no mention made of an eagle; and she trembled in her shoes for fear the teacher would ask still more embarrassing questions.

Fortunately, however, Miss Phelps turned to the lad across the aisle, and said, “Johnny, you may tell us the story of Ganymede.”

Johnny was nearly bursting his jacket in his eagerness to publish his knowledge; so to Peace’s immense gratification and relief, he gabbled off his version of Ganymede’s experience with Jupiter’s eagle.  And Peace breathed more freely when he sat down puffing with pride at the teacher’s, “Well told, Johnny.”

“Mercy!  I’m glad she didn’t ask me any more about the old fellow,” Peace sighed.  “I-I guess I didn’t hear much she said, but that horrid mythology is so dry.  I don’t see why she keeps reading the stuff to us.  I’d a sight rather study about physiology and cardrack valves and oil-factory nerves in the nose like Cherry does; though I don’t see how she ever remembers those long words and what part of the body they b’long to.  I’d-yes, I’d rather have mental ’rithmetic every day of the week than mythology about old gods that never lived, and did only mean things to everybody when they b’lieved they lived.”

“Peace Greenfield!” sounded an exasperated voice in her ear.  “If you would rather watch those pigeons across the street than to pay attention to your lessons, we will just excuse you and let you stand by the window until-”

“I wasn’t watching a single pigeon that time,” Peace broke in hotly.  “I was only thinking about those hateful gods folks used to b’lieve in, and wondering why the School Board makes us study about them when they were just clear fakes-every one of ’em-’nstead of learning things that really did happen at some time.  There’s enough true, int’resting things going on around us to keep us busy without studying fakes, seems to me.”

Now it happened that the mythological tales with which Miss Phelps regaled her small charges from time to time were not a part of the regular course of study laid out for her grade, and at this pupil’s blunt criticism, the teacher’s face became scarlet; but she quickly regained her poise, and turning to the school, asked, “How many of you enjoy listening to these myths which I have been reading?”

A dozen wavering, uncertain hands went up.  The rest remained clasped on their desks.

The woman was astounded.  “What kind of stories do you like best?” she faltered.

“Those in the new Readers,” responded the pupils as with one voice.

Mechanically Miss Phelps reached for one of the volumes, and opening it at random, read the New England tale of the Pine-tree Shillings to her delighted audience.

Peace tried to center her thoughts upon what was being read, but the lure of the Spring sunshine and blue sky was too great to be resisted; and before the story was ended, she was again wandering in realms of her own.  Down by the river where the pussy willows grew, out in the marshland where the cowslips soon would blow, up the gently sloping hillside, far up where the tall shaft of marble stood sentinel over the grave of her beloved Lilac Lady, she wandered, planning, planning what she would do when the warm Spring sunshine had chased away the Frost King for another year.

The book closed with a sudden snap, and the teacher demanded crisply, “All who think they can tell the story as well as Johnny told us about Ganymede, raise your hands.”

Vaguely aware that Miss Phelps had told them to raise their hands, Peace quickly shot one plump arm into the air and waved it frantically.

“Very well, Peace, you may begin.”

Peace bounced to her feet.  What was expected of her?  Why had she raised her hand?

“Aw, tell her about the pine-tree shillings,” prompted boastful Johnny in a whisper, and Peace plunged boldly into the half-heard story, wondering within herself how she was going to end it respectably when she did not know the true ending because her mind had been wool-gathering.

“Once there was a man-a man-a man-” blundered the girl, trying in vain to remember whether or not he had a name.

“Yes, a man,” repeated the teacher impatiently.  “Go on.  Where did he live and what did he do?”

“He lived in olden times,” replied Peace, grasping eagerly at the suggestion.

“Well, but in what country?  Asia or Africa?”

“Neither.  He lived in the New England,”-the New England chanced to be Martindale’s largest furniture store,-“and he was very rich and had a buckskin maiden.”

“A what?” gasped the astonished woman, dropping her book to the floor with a bang.

“A-a buckskin maiden,” repeated the child slowly, realizing that she had made some mistake, but not knowing where.

“Buxom,” whispered Johnny frantically.

“A-a bucksin maiden,” corrected Peace.

“Buxom!” snapped the teacher irritably.

“Bucksome,” repeated Peace, with the picture of a bucking billy goat uppermost in her mind, and wondering how a maiden could be bucksome.

“Go on,” sharply.

“Well, this bucksome maiden wanted awful bad to get married, like all other women do, and so her father found a man for her, but she had to have a dairy-”

“Dowry,” corrected the teacher.  “What is a dowry, Peace?”

“A place where they keep cows,” responded the child, sure of herself this time; but to her amazement, the rest of the scholars hooted derisively, and Miss Phelps said wearily, “Peace was evidently asleep when I explained the meaning of that word.  Alfred, you may tell her what a dowry is.”

“A dowry is the money and jew’ls and things a girl gets from her father to keep for her very own when she marries.”

“Oh,” breathed Peace, suddenly enlightened.  “Well, her father stood her in a pair of scales and weighed her with shingles-”

“With ?” Miss Phelps fortunately had not caught the word.

“Pine-tree shillings,” prompted Johnny under his breath.  “He had a chest full of ’em.”

“Pine-tree shingles,” answered Peace dutifully.  “He had a chest made of them.”

“Peace Greenfield!” Miss Phelps’ patience had come to an end.  Sometimes it seemed to her as if this solemn-eyed child purposely misunderstood, and mocked at her attempts to lead unwilling feet along the path of learning, and she was at a loss to know how to deal with the sprightly elf who danced and flitted about like an elusive will-o’-wisp.  The fact that she was the University President’s granddaughter was the only thing that had saved her thus far from utter disfavor in the eyes of her teacher; but now even that fact was lost sight of in face of the child’s repeated misdemeanors and flagrant inattention.  She should be punished.  It was the only way out.

Drawing her thin lips into a straight, grim line to express her disapproval, Miss Phelps repeated, “Peace Greenfield, you may remain after school.”

The gong rang at that instant, the notes of the piano echoed through the building, and surprised, dismayed Peace, after one searching look at her teacher’s face and a longing glance out into the bright sunlight, sank into her seat and watched her comrades march gleefully down the hall and scatter along the street.  It was too bad to be kept in on such a beautiful day!  O, dear, what a queer world it was and how many queer people in it!  There was Miss Phelps for one.  She was so strict and stern and sarcastic,-almost as sharp and harsh as Miss Peyton, who had made life so miserable for poor Peace in Chestnut School the year before.  But Miss Peyton did begin to understand at last, while Miss Phelps-

“Peace, come here.”

Peace roused from her bitter revery with a start.  She had not observed the teacher’s noiseless return to the room after conducting her pupils down the hall, and was astonished to find the stiff figure sitting in its accustomed place behind the desk which had once more been whisked into spick and span order for another day.

Peace scuttled spryly down the aisle, casting one final wistful glance over her shoulder at the doves across the street.  How delightful it must be to be a bird!  The teacher saw the glance, and putting on her severest expression, demanded sternly, “What is the matter with you, child?  Have you lost your wits entirely, or-”

“O, teacher,” the eager voice burst forth, as Peace pointed rapturously out of the window, “isn’t this the elegantest day?  Seems ’s if Winter had stayed twice as long this year as it ought to, and it’s been an awful trial to everyone, with its blizzards and drifts.  I like winter, too.  It’s such fun coasting and skating and sleighing and snow-balling.  But I’ve got enough for once.  I’m glad Spring is here at last.”  Her voice sent a responding joyous thrill through the woman’s cold heart in spite of herself.  “The ice in the river is ’most all gone, the pussy willows by the boathouse are peeking out their queer little jackets, and the robins are beginning to build their nests in the trees.  Grandpa says when the birds commence to build, Spring is here to stay; and I’m so glad.  I’ve just been aching to go hunting vi’lets and cowslips and ’nemones.  We are going to plant a heap of wild flowers on her grave-”

“Whose grave?” the amazed teacher heard herself asking.

“My Lilac Lady’s.  It’s so bare now.  The grass was all dead when she fell asleep last Fall, and only the ugly ground shows now-just the size of the bed they laid her in.  We’re going to cover it with the flowers she liked best, first the wild ones from the woods, and then the garden blossoms-pansies and forget-me-nots and English daisies.  I know where the prettiest vi’lets grow,-just scads and oodles of ’em-down by the stone bridge over Bartlett’s Creek in Parker; and Hicks is going to help us transplant them.  Only it’s too early yet.  They aren’t even up through the ground now.  But it won’t take long, with days like this.  It’s hard to study with Spring smelling so d’licious right under your nose.  Doesn’t it make you want to get out and jump rope and play marbles and leap-frog, and-and just jump and skip and yell?  I can pretty near fly with gladness!”

Peace turned a radiant face toward the silent woman, and was dismayed to find tears glistening in the cold gray eyes.  “Oh!” she exclaimed in deep contrition, “what is the matter?  Did I-what have I said now to make you squall?”

“Nothing, dear,” smiled the teacher, wiping away the telltale drops with a hasty whisk of her handkerchief.  “I-I just saw in my mind a picture of the little old cottage where I used to live, and it made me homesick, I think.  My head aches, too,-”

“Then you mustn’t let me keep you here,” cried the child, forgetting that she had been bidden to remain after school as a punishment for inattention.  “You better go right home, drink a cup of good, hot tea, and go to bed.  That’ll make you feel all right by morning, I know, ’cause that’s the way we fix Grandpa up when his head bothers.  Here’s your hat and coat.  Just breathe in lots of air, too.  It’s pretty muddy under foot to walk very far, but the fresh air will do you good.”

Before the woman could realize how it happened, Peace had coaxed her into her wraps, slipped on her own, and hand in hand with the astounded teacher was walking demurely down the muddy street, still chattering gayly.  At the corner, faithful Allee awaited the coming of her unfortunate sister, and Peace, seeing the yellow curls bobbing under the blue stocking cap, gave the teacher’s hand a parting squeeze, waved a smiling good-bye, and skipped off beside the younger child as if there were no such a thing as being kept in after school.

“O, Allee,” Miss Phelps heard her say as they pelted down the avenue, “do you s’pose Grandma’ll let us go over to Evelyn’s to play?  It’s dry enough, I’m sure.”

“Cherry’s gone on ahead to find out,” Allee panted.  “They are going to play anti-over,-Ted and Johnny and all the rest.”

“Goody!  I just know Grandma won’t put her foot down.  It’s such a lovely day!  Hear that robin say, ‘Spring is here, Spring is here!’ S’posin’ we were robins, Allee, and had to hunt up horse-hair and hay to build our nests of-”

“Peace!  Allee!  Hurry up.  We are already to play,” screamed Evelyn Smiley, leaning over her gate and beckoning wildly to the racing girls.  “Your grandmother says you can stay till five o’clock.  Ted’s ‘it’ this time.  Johnny has a dandy ball, and we are going to play over the house.”

“Oh!” cried Peace incredulously, “that’s so high!”

“All the more fun,” answered Ted, joining them at the gate.

“But we might break some windows.”

“Fiddlesticks!  Our ball is big and soft Couldn’t break anything with it.  ’Tain’t like Fred’s hard rubber one.  Come on.  This is my side of the house.  You take the other.”

The rest of the dozen children gathered on the front lawn scuttled away to the place designated, and the game was on.  Such laughing and shouting, such running and dodging!  Once Edith Smiley, Evelyn’s aunt, beloved of all the children, came to the window and watched the boisterous, exhilarating frolic with an anxious pucker between her brows.  “I am afraid someone will get hurt, Mother,” she said in answer to the white-haired grandmother’s questioning glance.

“How can they?  Seems to me they are playing a very harmless game.”

“But the house is too high for ‘anti-over.’  They should have taken the garage.”

“Nonsense!  They are developing muscle.  Watch that Peace fling the ball.  She can throw almost as well as a boy.”

“The lawn is so slippery-”

“They are nimble on their feet, and the ground is soft.”

Edith retired to her piano practise and the mother resumed her knitting with her usual tranquillity.  Suddenly above the soft strains of music that filled the house, rose a yell of dismay from a dozen throats outside.

“What’s happened?” Edith glanced apprehensively toward the door.

“Their ball is caught on the roof,” answered her mother, still smiling placidly.  “Guess their game is over for tonight.  Well, it is time.  The clock is just ready to strike five.”

Edith turned back to the piano, but before her hands had touched the ivory keys, there was a wild, excited, protesting shout from outside that brought her to her feet and sent her flying for the door.

“Peace, Peace!  Come down.  You’ll fall!  You’ll fall!”

“Johnny Gates, take that back!  She’s not a coward!  She couldn’t keep the ball from catching in that corner.”

“Oh, Peace, never mind the ball.  It’s Johnny who’s the coward.”

“Hush!  You will confuse her!” Edith’s voice was low but vibrant, and the screams from the terrified watchers below abruptly ceased.

Peace had reached the ball wedged in a hollow by the chimney, and with accurate aim, sent it spinning down to its white-faced, tearful owner; but as she turned to crawl back the way she had come, her foot slipped, she wavered uncertainly, and fell with a crash to the roof, rolling over and over in a vain endeavor to stop her mad career, till, with the horrified eyes of the stricken audience glued upon her, she slid over the coping and landed in a crumpled heap on the sodden turf below.

Then pandemonium broke loose.  Evelyn burst into uncontrollable sobs, Fanny toppled over in blissful unconsciousness, Cherry, beside herself with grief, tore down the street to break the direful news to those at home; and the boys danced and pranced in their terror, as they screamed, “She’s dead, she’s dead!  Peace Greenfield’s dead!”

For a brief instant, which seemed like eternity to Edith Smiley, she stood rooted to the spot, transfixed by the very horror of it all.  Then loyal Allee’s frenzied scream brought her to her senses, and she saw the golden head bending over the disheveled form in the mud, as the child repeated again and again, “She’s not dead!  She can’t be dead!  I won’t let her be dead!” Swiftly Edith knelt beside the pair and sought to lift the older child to carry her into the house.  But at her first touch, the brown eyes unclosed, and a roguish smile broke over the white face, as Peace looked up at the frightened figures above her and giggled hysterically, “I’ve often wondered what it would feel like to fly.  Do you s’pose it makes the birds sick and dizzy every time they make a swoop?”

“Peace!” gasped Edith, “are you hurt?”

“No, only things look kind of tipsy ’round here, and my breath has got St. Vitas Dance.”  Slowly she stretched out her arms and legs that they might see that none of her limbs were broken; but when she attempted to sit up, her lips went white and she fell back on the trampled grass with a stifled groan.

“You are hurt, Peace Greenfield,” declared anxious Allee, hovering over her like a mother bird over her young.

“There’s a place in my back,” whispered the injured girl faintly.  “I guess maybe one of my ribs is cracked.”

At this moment the distracted President and wild-eyed Gail pushed through the knot of children huddled about the fallen heroine, and demanded huskily, “How is she?  Not dead?  Thank God!  Any bones broken?”

“Nope, Grandpa,” smiled Peace cheerfully.  “I just got a cricket in my back, so it hurts a little when I wiggle; but I got Johnny’s ball, too, didn’t I?”

“I’m afraid there is something wrong,” whispered Edith Smiley, with a worried look in her eyes, as she made way for the President.  “She can’t move without groaning.”

The stalwart man stooped over the outstretched figure and gathered it in his arms, but as he lifted her from the ground she screamed in agony and fainted quite away.  Thus they bore her home-the President with the still form on his bosom, Gail bearing the muddy red stocking cap, Cherry and Allee bringing up the rear, while a hushed, scared-faced throng of playmates followed at some distance.

The next morning the corner seat by the window in Miss Phelps’ room was vacant for the first time that year, and the teacher looked up in surprise when no familiar voice answered, “Present,” when she called Peace Greenfield’s name.

“She fell off the roof of Smiley’s house,” volunteered one scholar.

“And broke her back,” supplemented another.

“What!” shrieked the horrified teacher, with a strange, sickening fear clutching at her heart.

The door opened, and the school principal entered the room, looking worn and distraught.

“Miss Lisk,” cried the teacher, turning eagerly to her superior, “the children tell me that Peace Greenfield has fallen from some roof and broken her back.”

“O, it’s not as bad as that,” responded the older woman promptly.  “She has had a nasty fall and is-hurt.  How badly, the doctor is unable yet to say, but we hope she will soon be with us again.”  Lowering her voice so none but the teacher could hear, she added, “The physician is afraid that her spine is injured.”

“Oh!” cried Miss Phelps, too shocked for further words.

“It is too bad such a thing should happen to her,” continued Miss Lisk sadly.  “She is such a lovable child, the life of her home.”

Had anyone paid such a tribute to the lively Peace on the previous day, her teacher would merely have raised her eyebrows doubtfully; but with the memory of that flushed, joyous face still so vividly before her, and with the sound of the eager, childish prattle still ringing in her ears, she nodded her head in assent, and turned back to the day’s duties with a heaviness of heart that was overwhelming.  With that restless, active figure gone from its accustomed corner, the sun seemed to have set in mid-day and left the whole world in darkness.