Read CHAPTER V - THE LILAC LADY’S MESSAGE of Heart of Gold , free online book, by Ruth Alberta Brown, on

Mercifully, Peace slept long the next morning, and it was not until the sun was high in the sky that she opened her eyes to her surroundings.  Then it was with a heavy sense of something wrong, and she stared uneasily about her, trying to remember what was the trouble.

“I feel as if I’d done something bad,” she said half aloud, “but I can’t think of a thing.”

The sound of Allee’s footsteps creeping softly along the hall and a glimpse of an awed, tear-stained face peering at her from the doorway suddenly recalled to her mind the scene of yesterday, and the bitter truth rushed over her with agonizing keenness.  She could never walk again!  All her days must be spent in a wheel-chair, a helpless prisoner!  The Lilac Lady was right,-she wanted to turn her face to the wall, to say good-bye to her friends and hide,-hide from the world and everything!

“Peace,” whispered a timid voice from the doorway, where Allee had paused, uncertain whether to stay or to depart.

The invalid stiffened.

“Peace, are you awake?” persisted the pleading voice, for the brown eyes stared unblinkingly straight ahead of her, and not a muscle of her tense body moved.  “May I come in and sit beside you?”

“No!” screamed Peace in sudden frenzy, almost paralyzing the little petitioner on the threshold. “Go away! You can walk and run and jump, and I never can again.  You’ve got two whole legs to amuse yourself with and mine are no good.  Get out of here!  I don’t want to see anyone with legs today-or tomorrow-or ever again!” Jerking the pillow slip over her eyes she sobbed convulsively, and Allee, with one terrified look at the quivering heap under the bed-clothes, rushed pellmell from the room, blinded by scalding tears.

Peace had sent her away!  Peace did not want her,-would not have her any more!  It was the greatest catastrophe of her short life to be banished by Peace; and stumbling with unseeing eyes down the hall, she ran headlong into the arms of someone just coming up the stairs.

“Why-” began a husky, rumbling voice, and Allee, thinking it was the President on his way to the sick-room, sobbed out, “O, Grandpa, she sent me away!  She says she never wants to see a pair of good legs again.  You better-”

“It’s not Grandpa, little one,” interrupted the other voice.  “It’s I,-St. John.  Do you think she will let me in?  Because I have come especially to see her.”

But a sharp, imperative voice from the Flag Room answered them.  “Come back, Allee, I’m sorry I don’t like the looks of legs today, but I want you just the same,-legs and all.”

For an instant Allee looked unbelievingly up into Mr. Strong’s eyes, as if doubtful that she had heard aright; then as the minister gave her a gentle push toward the door, she bounded lightly away, and when the Hill Street pastor reached the threshold the two sisters were locked fast in each other’s arms.

All at once, through the tangle of Allee’s curls, the brown eyes spied the form of her beloved friend hesitating in the doorway; but instead of looking surprised at his presence, Peace pushed the little sister from her and demanded fiercely, as if his being there were the most natural thing in the world, “Make faces at me, St. John,-the very worst you know how.”

“Why, my dear-” stammered the young minister, as much amazed at his reception as he could have been had she dashed a cup of water in his face.  “Why, Peace, I don’t believe-”

“Of course you know how to make faces!” she interrupted scornfully.  “Do you s’pose I’ve forgotten that day in Parker down by the barn?  Make some now,-the most hijious ones you can think of.”

There was nothing to do but to comply with her strange whim; so, rumpling up his thick, shining black hair, he proceeded to distort his comely features into the most surprising contortions imaginable.  But with the heavy ache in his heart and a growing lump in his throat at the pitifulness of her plight, he was not real successful in diverting her unhappy thoughts, and with a mournful wail of woe she burst into tears.

“My child!” he cried contritely, and in an instant his strong arms closed about the huddled figure, and he held her fast, crooning softly in her ear as a mother might over her babe, until at length the convulsive gasps eased, grew less frequent, and finally ceased.

There was a long-drawn, quivering sigh, a last gulp or two and Peace hiccoughed, “It’s no use, St. John.  I can’t coax up a ghost of a smile from anywhere.  I’ve thunk of all the funniest things that ever happened to me or anyone else; I’ve scratched my brains to ’member the funny stories I s’lected for Sadie Wenzell’s bunch of scrapbooks; I’ve even pretended the funniest things I could imagine, but it won’t work.  I knew if there was a sign of a laugh left inside of me, your horrible faces would bring it out.  It did in Parker, when I thought I never could smile again.  But this time-get your legs out of sight,-under the bed,-anywhere so’s I can’t see them.  I don’t like their looks!”

Had the situation been less tragic, he could not have refrained from laughing at the ludicrous way she bristled up and snapped out her command; but mindful only of the great trouble which had suddenly overshadowed the young life, he hastily tucked his long limbs out of sight under the edge of the bed, slumped as far down in his chair as he possibly could, and fell to energetically stroking the brown curls tumbled about the hot, flushed face, as he vainly tried to think of some comforting words with which to soothe the rebellious, sorrowful child.

From below came the sound of a voice singing softly, and though the words were indistinguishable, the three occupants of the Flag Room caught snatches of the tune Peace loved so well, the Gleaners’ Motto Song.  Recalling the days when the brown-eyed child had made the little Hill Street parsonage ring with this very melody, the preacher unconsciously began to chant,

     “’When the days are gloomy,
       Sing some happy song,
     Meet the world’s repining
       With a courage strong;
     Go with faith undaunted
       Through the ills of life,
     Scatter smiles and sunshine
       O’er its toil and strife.’”

“Well, don’t it beat all?” exclaimed Peace wearily.

“Doesn’t what beat all?” mildly inquired the pastor, as she made no effort to explain her words.

“How some folks will wear a tune to a frazzle,” was the disconcerting reply.  “There’s Faith, now, she hasn’t played anything for days ’xcept ‘Carve-a-leery-rusty-canner!’ And when it ain’t that it’s ’Nose-arts Snorter,’ or those wretched archipelagoes.  I’m so sick of ’em all that I could shout when she touches the piano.  As for that song you were just droning,-why, everyone in this house seems to think it’s the only thing going.  There is nothing left of it now but tatters.”

The preacher had abruptly ceased his humming, and as Allee crept quietly from the room to hush the singer below, he suddenly remembered a commission given him by his wife; and fumbling in his pocket, he drew out a small book, daintily bound in white and gold.  “Elspeth sent you this booklet, dear,” he ventured, somewhat timidly, for after two such rebuffs as he had received in his endeavor to cheer the sufferer, he was at a loss to know what to say or do next.  “She could not come today herself, but she thought this little story might please you.”

“Thanks,” replied Peace, dropping the volume on the pillow without a spark of interest in face or voice.  “I’d rather have seen her.  She has got some sense.  Books haven’t.  I’ve been stuffed so full of stories, I am ready to bu’st.”  Then, as if fearing that she had been rude to this dearest of friends, she added hastily, “But I s’pose there is room for one more.  It must be good or Elspeth wouldn’t have sent it.  What is it about?”

“It’s the story of a little girl named Gwen, who fell from-”

Peace stopped him with a peremptory wave of her hand.  “That will do for the present,” she said coldly, in such exact imitation of Miss Phelps that no one who had ever met the teacher could possibly mistake her tone.  “I don’t like the name.  It sounds like ’grin’.”

The minister rubbed his head in perplexity.  Never in all his acquaintance with Peace had he seen her in such a mood.  Was this child among the pillows really Peace, the sunbeam of this home, the sunbeam of every home she chanced to enter?  Poor little girl!  What a pity such a terrible misfortune should have befallen her!  She stirred uneasily, and he hurriedly asked, “Would you rather I should go away and leave you alone?”

“No!  O, no!” She clutched one big hand closer with both of hers, and a look of alarm leaped into her eyes, so heavy with weeping.  “It’s easier-the pain here,” laying one thin hand over her heart, “it’s easier with you here.  I wish you had brought Elspeth.”

“She will come some other day,” he answered gently, glad to see a more natural expression creep over the white face, though his heart ached at the sorrowful tone of her voice.  “What would you like to have me do?  Talk?”

“Yes, if you’ve anything int’resting to say,” she murmured drowsily.

“And if not?” For he saw that it would be only a matter of minutes before she would be in the Land of Nod again.

“Then just hold me.  I’m tired,” she answered wearily.

So he sat and held her on her pillows until her regular breathing told him that she was fast asleep, when, laying her back upon the bed, he left her with a heavy heart.

“I never dreamed that a child so young could take it so hard,” he confided to his wife in troubled tones when he had told her the whole sad story.  “She seems to have grown old in a night.”

“Poor little birdie,” Elizabeth tenderly murmured, stroking the dark hair from her sleeping son’s forehead as she laid him in his crib for his nap.  “Why did they tell her so soon?  The family themselves haven’t grown accustomed to the meaning of it yet.”

“No one knows how she learned it, Elspeth.  She was asleep under the trees when the President came home with the sad news.  He had been to consult that famous specialist about the child’s condition when the surgeon told him that the case was hopeless, so far as her walking again is concerned.  He was so unmanned by the verdict that he blurted it out to Mrs. Campbell immediately upon his return home, and the girls overheard it.  But Peace was out-of-doors all the while.  She didn’t waken for dinner; but when everyone was in bed, Mrs. Campbell heard her crying, and went to discover what was the matter.  They are terribly broken up about the whole affair.  It seems wicked to say so, but had the accident happened to any other of the sisters, it would not have seemed so dreadful.  What is Peace ever going to do without those nimble, dancing feet?”

“Our Peace will surprise us yet,” prophesied the little wife hopefully.  “This experience won’t down her, hard as it seems now, if she is made of the stuff I think she is.”

But as the days rolled by in that afflicted household, it really seemed as if they had lost their engaging, winsome little Peace for all time, so changed did the invalid grow.  Nothing suited her, everything annoyed.  The girls talked too much or were too silent; the servants were too noisy or too obviously quiet; the President’s shoes clumped and his slippers squeaked; Mrs. Campbell always pulled the curtains too low or not low enough.  The dogs’ barking fretted her, the singing of the canary made her peevish, even the cat’s purring brought forth a protest; but as soon as the unreasonable patient discovered that all the pets had been banished on her account, she demanded them back.  However, the long-suffering members of the family could not find it in their hearts to chide, and they redoubled their efforts to make their little favorite forget.  Those were gloomy days in the Campbell household, for they sadly missed the merry laughter, the gay whistle, the unexpected pranks and frank speeches of this child of the sunshine and out-of-doors.  At first they had tried to be cheerful and full of fun in the sick-room, hoping to win back the merry smile to the white lips; but Peace resented this attitude, and straightway they ceased their songs and laughter, only to have her demand them again.  Unhappy, capricious Peace!

“Why don’t you play on the piano any more?” she inquired of Faith one afternoon, when it was that sister’s turn to amuse the invalid for an hour or two.

“Do you want me to?” cried Faith eagerly, for her fingers were just itching to glide over the ivory keys.

“Of course,-s’posing you play something pretty.”

So Faith took her place at her beloved instrument and dashed into a brilliant, rattling jig which had always been a favorite of the brown-haired sister.

But she had played scarcely a dozen measures when a shrill, imperious voice from above shrieked, “Don’t play that!  O, stop, stop!  Can’t you see it’s got legs?”

“Legs?” wondered Faith, her hands poised in mid air, so abruptly had she ceased her playing.

“There’s a million pair of legs to that tune and every one of ’em can dance.  Play something without legs.”

The utter ridiculousness of the complaint did not occur to Faith, but with an unusual display of patience, she tried air after air, hoping to find something which might satisfy the childish whim of the lame sister, only to be rewarded at last by a peevish call, “You may as well give it up, Faith.  They’ve all got legs.”

The entire family was at their wits’ end.  No one had a sane suggestion to offer, and their hosts of friends were in the same predicament.  When it seemed as if something must surely give way under the strain, Peace suddenly subsided into a state of utter indifference to her surroundings, more alarming to her loved ones than had been her peevish, unreasonable demands.  Nothing interested her, books she loathed, conversation bored her, neighborly calls from her dearest friends wearied her, she no longer yearned for the sunshine and flowers of the garden; indeed, she showed no desire to be out-of-doors at all, but lay day after day in the wheel-chair by the balcony window, staring with somber, unseeing eyes out over the river.  Nothing family or friends could do roused her from her apathy, and despair descended upon the household.  Must this little life which they loved so dearly fade away before their eyes, and they helpless to prevent?

“O, Donald,” sobbed Mrs. Campbell, clinging desperately to her husband’s strong arm, “I cannot bear it, I cannot bear it!  She takes it so hard!  It is torture to watch her suffer so.  Our precious Peace!”

“If only her St. Elizabeth could come to her!” sighed the baffled President.

But it was not her beloved saint of the parsonage who saved the day.  It was her Lilac Lady, now sleeping under the sod of the wind-kissed hillside, and Aunt Pen was her messenger.

It was a breathless, sultry afternoon in late summer when the sweet-faced matron of Oak Knoll turned in at the President’s gate and sought out the invalid lying motionless under the oak trees where the fierce heat had driven her.  The little face among the pillows was no longer rosy and round; blue veins showed at the temples, the lips were colorless, the eyes hollow; the hands, once so brown and strong, were thin and waxy-white; the whole body lay inert,-lifeless, it seemed; and a pang of fear gripped the gentle heart brooding so tenderly over the poor wrecked life.

“Are you asleep, darling?” she whispered softly, touching with light fingers the clustering rings of dark brown which covered the shapely head.

The mournful eyes opened dully, and Peace murmured parrot fashion, “Good afternoon, Aunt Pen.  I hope you keep well these hot days.  You must take care of yourself, you know.”

Secretly amazed, the woman merely stooped and kissed the white face, as she settled herself comfortably in a nearby chair and cheerily answered, “Yes, I am well, dear, and all the little birdlings are, too.  I intended to bring Giuseppe and his violin this afternoon, but-”

“It’s just as well you didn’t,” interrupted the other voice in lifeless tones.  “Prob’ly his music has legs, too, and I haven’t any use for such things these days.”

“But he had promised to play for a dear old lady at the Home,” continued Aunt Pen, as if she had not noticed the interruption.  “So I brought you-”

“Some more magazines,” again broke in Peace, perceiving the gay covers in the woman’s hand.

“That was very kind of you I’m sure, but I have a whole libr’y at my-at my de-mand.  So you put yourself to a lot of trouble all for nothing.”

“This is a different kind of magazine from any you have,” replied the woman soberly, though sorely tempted to smile at the stilted, unnatural tones of her little favorite.

“Is it?” Just a spark of interest flickered in the somber eyes.  “Why, I thought I had the whole c’lection already.  Folks seem to think I don’t want to do anything but read, and they keep the house pretty well filled up with magazines, old and new.  Last week I had Allee telephone to the Salvation Army to come and get them.  But it didn’t do any good,-we’ve had as many more brought in since.”

“This is the one your Lilac Lady was reading when she-fell asleep,” said Aunt Pen gently, a little catch in her voice as she thought of Peace, doomed to spend the rest of her days in a wheel-chair, just as that other girl, the Lilac Lady, had done.

“Oh!  And you brought it to me!  I sh’d think you would want to keep it yourself.”

“I did, dearie.  I laid it away among my treasures, but today I chanced upon it, and in turning the pages, I caught a glimpse of a slip of paper written on, in her handwriting.  I had not examined the book since the day I picked it up from the floor beside her chair; but this morning I drew out the scrap she had written and found a little message for you-”

“For me?” Incredulous surprise animated the white face.

“Yes, dear.  Some verses she had written that last hour,-not even complete.  I know she intended them for you.  Perhaps she felt that she would be-asleep-before you came, so she wrote a little message for you, Peace, but I never found it until today.  Would you care to have me read it to you?”

“Let me read it, please.”  Peace snatched the paper eagerly and with jealous eyes scanned the simple stanzas penned so many months ago for just that very moment.

     “Up the garden pathway,
       Light as the morning air,
     Singing and laughing gayly,
       A child with face so fair
     Dances with arms outreaching,
       Her eyes ashine with glee,
     Nor pauses until she reaches
       The chair ’neath the old oak tree,
     Where, chained by mortal weaknesses,
       I lie from day to day
     Waiting my darling’s coming.-
       Ah! could I keep her alway!-

     Child of flowers and sunshine,
       Child of laughter and love,
     Peace,-a God-given blessing,
       Straight from the heavens above,
     Bringing the breath of the woodland,
       The perfume of sun-kissed flowers,
     The freshness of vagrant breezes,
       The sweetness of cooling showers;
     Bringing the thrilling music
       Of skylarks and forest birds,
     Heart-healing, soul-cheering measures,
       Wondrous songs without words.

     Peace,-oh, how can I tell it?-
       The marvelous peace you have brought,
     The wonderful lessons of living
       Your generous spirit has taught,
     Easing the burden of sorrow,
       Soothing the sharp sting of pain,
     Bringing fresh aspirations,-
       My Peace gives me hope again!”

Once, twice, three times she read the lines.  Then turning puzzled, wondering eyes upon Aunt Pen, she whispered eagerly, “What does it all mean, please?  Did she really feel that way, Aunt Pen?  Did I scatter sunshine after all?  Was she happier when I was with her?  O, did I-make her-forget?”

“More than you will ever know,” answered the woman warmly, squeezing the thin fingers lying across her knee.  “You brought back the sunshine she thought had gone out of her life forever.  You gave her something to live for, something to do, made life seem worth while.  O, my little Peace, it is just as the poem tells you,-you gave her hope!”

For a long time the child lay lost in thought, and only the faint rustling of the leaves overhead broke the stillness.  Then she said sadly, glancing down at the useless feet in their gay slippers, “But I had my legs then.”

“You have your smile now.  A happy heart is worth more than a dozen pair of legs, dear.  It was your merry voice, your gay laughter, your joyous nature that cheered your Lilac Lady.  Surely you didn’t lose all those when you lost the use of your feet!”

Peace smiled ruefully.  “You’d have thought so if you had lived with me since I got hurt,” she confessed.

“I don’t believe it,” Aunt Pen vigorously contradicted.  “Our real Peace, our little sunbeam has just been hiding under a dark cloud all this while.  She is coming back to us her own gay self some day,-soon, we hope.”

“Do you b’lieve that?” Peace eagerly demanded.

“I know it,” the woman answered with conviction.

“But s’posing I have really forgotten how to laugh and-and whistle, and be nice?”

“Pshaw!  As if you could have forgotten all that, dear!  But even then, it is never too late to learn, you know.”

“That’s so.  And maybe after a bit it would be easier.  I-guess I’ll-try to learn-again, Aunt Pen.  May I keep this little poem so’s I won’t forget any more?  It’s really mine, for she wrote it for me, didn’t she?”

“Yes, indeed, darling.  That’s your message.  You helped your Lilac Lady, and now she is going to help you.”