Read CHAPTER IV - PEACE LEARNS THE BITTER TRUTH of Heart of Gold , free online book, by Ruth Alberta Brown, on

The school year came to a close, the days grew hotter, the nights brought no relief, and Dr. Coates, still a daily visitor at the big house, began to look grave again.

“What is it?” asked the President, feeling intuitively that something was wrong.  “She is not doing as well?”

“No.”  The old doctor shook his head.

“The heat?”

“Possibly,-possibly.  But she had stopped mending before the hot wave struck us.”

“Then you think-”

“I’m afraid it means that operation I mentioned when she was first hurt.”

The President turned on his heel and strode over to the window where he stood looking out into the warm, breathless evening twilight.  When he wheeled about again, the doctor saw that the strong face was set and white, and great beads of perspiration stood on his forehead.  “I-I trust you will not be offended, doctor,” he said with a catch in his voice, “but I should like the opinion of other physicians-specialists- before taking that step.  You say-it is-a very delicate operation?”

“Yes,” the doctor admitted.  “But I am afraid now that it is her only chance.  However, it is perfectly agreeable to me if you wish to consult other authorities.  I myself would be glad to hear the opinions of specialists.”

So it happened that a few days later a strange doctor bent over the white bed in the Flag Room, and when he had punched and poked to his heart’s content and Peace’s abject misery, another physician took his place.

“Dr. Coates said I hadn’t cracked a rib,” moaned the unhappy victim tearfully, as she saw the second unfamiliar face above her, “but I’ll bet that man who just went out has cracked the whole bunch for me.  Is that your business, too?”

“No, my dear,” tenderly answered the big, burly specialist, beginning his examination with such a gentle, practised touch that Peace scarcely winced throughout the long ordeal.  “My business is to mend cracked ribs-also cracked backs.  Does yours feel very badly cracked?”

“All splintered up sometimes,” the child promptly admitted.  “It gets so bad in the night when there’s no one here to rub it that I can’t help crying once in a while.  I tried to rub it myself the other night, but it took all my breath away and I could hardly get it back again.  The bed is so hot!  Dr. Coates said ages ago that I could get up in two months, but it’s more’n that now and he shakes his head every time I ask him.”

“Are you then so anxious to get out of this dear little crib?”

Peace stared hard at the kindly face so near her own, and then ejaculated, “’Cause it’s a dear little crib doesn’t make it any cooler nor any easier to stay tucked in when you are just crazy to be dancing about.  Why, it’s June now!  They told me I’d be well so’s I could plant the pansies on my Lilac Lady’s grave, seeing as Allee had to set out all the vi’lets without any of my help.  And now Hicks has had to transplant the pansies ’cause they will soon be too big.”

“Tell me all about it,” urged the specialist, as if every minute of his time was not worth dollars to him; and Peace poured her heart full of woe into his sympathetic ears.  When she had finished he abruptly asked, “Supposing Dr. Coates told you that an operation would be necessary before you could get well, would you let him perform it?”

“What’s a noperation?” asked Peace inquisitively.

“There is something out of place in your back, caused by your fall.  It is pressing against the spine and must be lifted up where it belongs before-you can ever-get well.”

“And can Dr. Coates lift it up where it b’longs?” Peace was breathlessly interested.

“Yes,-we think so,-we hope so,” stammered the doctor, startled by the eager tone of her voice and the quick light in her big eyes.

“All right then, we’ll have the noperation.  I’d most begun to think I was going to be like my Lilac Lady.  My legs don’t feel any more, and she said hers didn’t.”

“God forbid,” muttered the man, who had already lost his heart to the little invalid, and was deeply touched by the pathos of the case; and gathering up his glittering instruments, he hurried from the room.

That night a cooling rain washed the fever from the air and the world awoke refreshed from its bath.  The hot wave had broken, but to poor Peace the cool atmosphere brought little relief.  The injured back hurt her cruelly and she could not keep the tears from her eyes.

“I knew that first doctor would crack a rib,” she sobbed wildly, as the distracted President strove in vain to ease her pain.  “Why doesn’t Dr. Coates come and noperate?  O, it does hurt me so bad, Grandpa!”

Laying the child back among her pillows, the stalwart man hastily fled down the stairway, and when he came back Dr. Coates and a sweet-faced, white-capped nurse were with him.  The room across the hall was stripped of its furnishings and scrubbed with some evil-smelling stuff until the whole house reeked with it.  Then the walls were draped with spotless sheets, and the next morning Peace was borne away to the improvised operating room, where only Dr. Coates, the kindly-faced stranger physician, their young assistant and the nurse were allowed to remain.

Peace looked about her curiously, murmured drowsily “I can’t say I admire your dec’rations,” and fell asleep under the gentle fumes of the ether.

It seemed hours later when she awakened to consciousness and saw about her the white, drawn, anxious faces of her loved ones.  “Then I’m not dead yet,” she exclaimed with satisfaction.  “That’s good.  Did you get my back patched up, Dr. Coates?”

The horrible strain was broken.  With stifled, hysterical sobs, the family hurriedly withdrew, and the nurse bent over the bed with her finger on her lips as she gently commanded, “Hush, childie, you mustn’t talk now.  We want you to get some sleep so the little back will have a chance to heal.”

“Can I talk when I wake up?” Peace demanded weakly.

“Yes, if you are very good.”

“All right.  You can go now.  I don’t like folks to stare at me when I’m asleep.  It d’sturbs my slumber.”  Closing her eyes once more, she fell into a dreamless sleep, and the doctors departed, much pleased with the result of their operation.

The days of convalescence were busy ones in the Campbell household, for it required the combined efforts of family, nurse, doctor and friends to keep the restless patient’s attention occupied.  St. John and Elizabeth came often to the big house, bringing Glen or Guiseppe or Lottie to amuse the prisoner; Miss Edith laughingly declared that she was more frequently found in the Flag Room than in her own home; Ted and Evelyn vied with each other to see which could run the most errands, read the most stories, or propose the most new plays during the long vacation hours; and even busy Aunt Pen found opportunity occasionally to steal away for a brief visit with the brown-haired sprite who had brought so much joy into her own heart and life.

For a time the operation seemed a decided success, the back appeared to be stronger, the pain almost disappeared, and the nurse was no longer needed in the sick room.  One day a wheel-chair was substituted for the bed where Peace had lain so many weeks; and for the first time since the accident, she was carried out under her beloved trees, where she could watch the flowers bud and blossom, smell their perfume on each passing breeze, and listen to the nesting birds in the branches overhead.  But the crutches she had so fondly dreamed of, which were to teach her to walk again, were not forthcoming, and with alarm she saw the summer slip rapidly by while she lay among the pillows in the garden.

When she spoke of it to the older sisters, they answered cheerily, “Be patient, girlie, it takes a long time for such a hurt to heal,” and turned their heads away lest she should read the growing conviction in their eyes.

“It’s so hard to be patient,” she protested mournfully.  “You bet I’ll never climb another roof.”

“No,” they sighed sadly to themselves, “I am afraid you never will.”

But the cruel truth of the matter was broken to poor Peace at a most unexpected moment.  She was resting under her favorite oak, close to the library window, one warm afternoon, planning as usual for the day when she could walk again; and lulled by the drowsy hum of the bees and the soft swish of the leaves above her, she drifted off to slumberland.  A slanting beam of the setting sun waked her as it fell across her face, and she sat up abruptly, hardly realizing what had roused her.  Then she became aware of voices issuing from the library beyond, and Allee’s agonized voice cried out, “O, Grandpa, you don’t mean that she will never, never walk again?  Must she lie there all the rest of her life like the Lilac Lady and Sadie Wenzell until the angels come and get her?  Grandpa, must she die like they did?”

With a startled gasp, Peace leaned forward in her chair, then sank back among the pillows with a dreadful, sickening sensation gripping at her heart.  They were talking about her!  She strained her ears to catch the President’s reply, but could hear only an indistinct rumble of voices mingled with Allee’s sharp sobs.  So the angels had carried Sadie Wenzell to her home beyond the Gates!  Idly she wondered when it had happened and why she had not been told.  It had been one of her dearest plans to visit Sadie some day and see for herself how she enjoyed the scrapbooks which had cost Peace so much labor and lament.  Now Sadie was gone.

“Grandpa, Grandpa, why couldn’t I have been the one to fall and hurt my back?” wailed the shrill voice from the open window. “’Twouldn’t have made so much difference then, but Peace!-O, Grandpa, I can’t bear to think of her lying there all the long years-”

Again the voice trailed away into silence, and Peace lay stunned by the significance of the words.  All her life chained to a chair!  All her life a helpless invalid like the Lilac Lady!  The black night of despair descended about her and swallowed her up.

They thought her asleep when they came to wheel her into the house before the dew should fall; and as she did not stir when they laid her in the white swan bed, they stole softly away and left her in the grip of the demon Despair.

So this was what the Lilac Lady had meant when she had said so bitterly, “You will turn your face to the wall, say good-bye to those who you thought were your friends, build a high fence around you and hide-hide from the world and everything!” The words came back to her with a startling distinctness and a great sob rose in her throat.

“What is it, darling?” asked a gentle voice from the darkness, and Peace, clutching wildly for some human support in her hour of anguish, threw her arms about the figure kneeling at her bedside, and cried in terror, “O, Grandma, I can’t, I can’t!”

“Can’t what?” asked the sweet voice, thinking the child was a victim of some bad dream, for she never suspected that Peace could know the dreadful truth.

“I can’t stay here all the rest of my life!  I wasn’t made for the bed.  My feet won’t keep still.  I must run and shout.  O, Grandma, tell me it isn’t true!”

But the gentle voice was silent, and the woman’s tears mingling with those of the grief-stricken child told the story.  Clasping the quivering little body more tightly in her arms, the silvery-haired grandmother sobbed without restraint until the child’s grief was spent, and from sheer exhaustion Peace fell asleep.

Then, loosing the grip of the slender hands, now grown so thin and white, she laid her burden back on the bed, and as she kissed the wet cheeks and left the weary slumberer to her troubled dreams, she whispered sadly, “Good-night, little Peace,-and good-bye.  We have lost our merry little sprite.  It will be a different Peace who wakens with the morrow.”