Read CHAPTER XIV - KETURAH AND BILLY Bolée of Heart of Gold , free online book, by Ruth Alberta Brown, on ReadCentral.com.

“Well, Kitty, I am awful sorry, but it can’t be helped now.  It won’t take me more than half an hour or so in all probability, but will you care to wait for me?”

Peace, dozing in her wheel-chair in a little, sheltered niche at the end of the corridor, awoke with a start.  Was that Dr. Dick speaking, or had those words been part of a dream?

Another voice, unfamiliar to her, and sounding weary, indifferent and pathetically mournful, answered, “Tomorrow will be the same.”

“Yes,” Dr. Shumway laughed apologetically, “I suppose it will.  Physicians can hardly claim a minute of their time for themselves.”

“Then I might as well wait for you now.”

“Very well.  Shall I send you down to the Library in the auto,-or to one of the stores?  Or will you stay here?  I’m afraid you won’t find much to amuse yourself with in this place.”

“Nevertheless I’ll stay,” answered the world-weary voice again.  “But please hurry.  I don’t like the smell of lysol and ether.”

“I’ll be back as soon as I can, Kit.  You’ll find a pretty view from that bay window if you care to look at our scenery.”  The busy doctor was gone, and the black-clad figure, left to her own devices for the next thirty minutes, turned with a heavy sigh toward the window her companion had indicated, but paused at sight of a bright, alert little face, peeping around the back of an invalid’s chair which she had not noticed before.

The rosy lips parted in a smile, and before the startled woman could regain her composure, the child spoke.  “So this is Catarrhar, is it?”

“My name is Mrs. Wood,” answered the woman, dumbfounded by her salutation.

“But your first name?” persisted the brown-eyed sprite.

“What does it matter?” The woman’s voice was cold and crisp.

“Aren’t you Dr. Dick’s sister?”

“Dr. Dickson Shumway is my brother, if that is what you mean.”

“I thought so.  Well, he’s got better manners than you have.”

The woman gasped.  Who in the world was this frank, friendly creature?  No one had ever dared to speak like that to her before.  Flushed with anger, she turned to seek another retreat, but Peace forestalled her.  “Your father said you weren’t as homely as he is, and that’s so.  You’d be real pretty if you just looked a little more human.”

“Human!” The exclamation burst from her involuntarily, as the woman sank limply into the nearest chair and stared in utter surprise at her tormentor.

“Yes.  You look so scowly and-and-oh, so frosty.  I like warm faces that smile and look happy, like Dr. Dick’s, you know.  Your sister Penelope has the smile but not the good looks.  Pansy has neither, but I don’t blame her.  Having such a name and being so fat is enough to make anyone cross.  Her waist tapers in the wrong direction.  I’ve never seen Carrie, so I don’t know what she is like.  But you-”

“Who-who are you?” the black-clad figure found voice to stammer.

“Me?  I’m Peace-”

“Seems to me that name doesn’t fit very well, either,” said the other sarcastically, for Peace’s candid criticisms had wounded her pride.

“It’s perfectly awful, ain’t it?” Peace serenely admitted.  “But though I can’t help my name, I I can help being ugly about it.  There’s nothing at all peaceful about me, I know.  Grandma says she thinks I must be strung on wires, for I can’t keep still.  There’s always a commotion when I’m around.  I’ve tried and tried to be sweet and quiet like Gail and Hope and Allee, but it’s no use.  So now I just try to be happy and cheerful.  That doesn’t always work, either.  Sometimes I get in an awful stew about having to sit in a chair day after day, but then I ’member what my Lilac Lady wrote, and I try to be good again.”

“Your Lilac Lady?”

“She was lame like me,” the child explained, and promptly regaled her visitor with the history of the dear friend who had slipped out from her prison house of pain not two years before, while the icy Mrs. Wood sat listening with real interest in her heart.

When the tale was ended, the woman whispered, “And now you-”

“Yes,” interrupted the child calmly.  “I thought for a while I’d be like her, but Dr. Dick says before many more weeks he thinks I may be strong enough to try crutches.  You see, my legs didn’t use to have any life in ’em.  I could stick ’em with pins and never feel it, but I can’t do that now.  They feel just like they did before I was hurt, but they are too weak yet to hold me up.  I tried it one day just after Miss Wayne left, and I slumped right flat on the floor.  I was scared for fear I’d have to call Miss Keith to help me onto the couch, and then she would scold; but after I rested a bit, I lifted myself easy.”

“What would the doctor say if he knew you did that?”

“O, he knows.  I told him. He never scolds.  He just said that I mustn’t do it again until he let me himself, and I haven’t.  He’s an awful nice doctor.  He’s always playing jokes, ain’t he?  When I first woke up from the antiseptic, I wanted a drink awfully bad, but Miss Wayne wouldn’t let me have a drop of cold water; so when he came in to see me, I asked him for just a swallow, and what do you s’pose he did?”

“I don’t know,” murmured her companion, still interested in the small patient’s prattle in spite of herself.

“Well, he wrote in big letters on a card, ’When you want a drink, remember there is a spring in your bed.’  And then he hitched it to the foot-rail where I couldn’t help seeing it every time I looked that way.  Wasn’t that hateful?  Of course it made me laugh, and it did help me think of something else when I was so thirsty that it seemed as if I’d dry up if they didn’t give me a teenty drink. He knows how to make sick folks well.”

“He couldn’t make my baby well,” the woman blurted out with such bitterness that Peace recoiled, shocked.

“I’ll bet he could have, if anyone could,” she declared staunchly after her first start of surprise.

“Yes, I suppose so.  That is what Ed said,” answered the bereft mother more quietly.

“Is Ed your husband?”

“Yes.”

“I thought he was dead!”

“Ed?  Why, no!  What put that idea into your head?”

“You are all rigged out in black-”

“My baby is dead.”

“So is Elspeth’s, but she never wears black.  St. John likes to see her in blue, so she wears that color lots.  It just matches her eyes.  St. John is a perfectly good husband-”

“So is Ed,” interrupted Mrs. Wood, with a passion that surprised her.  “No one can say one word against Ed. He is as good as gold.”

“Does he like black on you?”

“Why-er-I don’t know.”

“I never saw a man yet that did,” Peace commented sagely.  “Grandpa has fits when Grandma gets into an all-black rig.  He says it looks too gloomy.  That’s what St. John and Elspeth think, too, so she never wears it.”

“Who are they?” asked Mrs. Wood, for want of anything else to say, because the child’s criticism of her attire had sharply reminded her of her own husband’s frank disapproval.

“St. John was our minister in Parker, but now he has the Hill Street Church in Martindale, where I live.  Elspeth is his wife.  They let me name their twins, but the Tiniest One died before I could find a pretty enough name for it.”

“Ah!  She still has something to live for.  No wonder she can dress in blue.  She didn’t lose her only child.”

“’Twouldn’t have made any difference if she had lost her whole family,” Peace replied, unconsciously pushing the sharp arrow deeper and deeper into her unwilling visitor’s heart.  “She’d have gone to work and adopted some to raise.  That’s what Grandpa and Grandma did.”

“I thought you said your grandfather was President of the State University.”

“I did.  But he ain’t our real grandfather.  His only two children died when they were little, and ’cause my own Grandpa had adopted him when they were boys, Grandpa Campbell adopted the whole kit of us when he found out who we were and that we were orphants.  There are six of us, but he said he’d have taken the whole bunch if there’d been a dozen.  That’s the kind of a fellow he is, and Elspeth is just like him.  Why don’t you adopt a baby?”

“Why-why-why-”

“Would Ed kick?”

“No, Ed never kicks.  He lets me do anything I please.”

Mrs. Wood, with a curious, baffled feeling in her heart, wondered why she sat there listening to a spoiled child’s silly chatter when every word stung her to the quick, and yet she made no effort to change her position.

“Well, if my husband would let me adopt a baby, I tell you it wouldn’t take me long to find one.”

“Your husband?”

“Yes, s’posing I had one.”

“You are but a child.  You don’t know what you are talking about.  You cannot understand.  An adopted baby never can fill the place of one’s own lost one.”

“How do you know?  You never did it, either.  Babies are such cunning things.  No one can help loving them if they’ve got any kind of a heart.  There is poor little Billy Bolée.  He is just as pretty as he can be, but he’s lame.  Dr. Dick says one leg will always be shorter than the other, and he hasn’t anyone to take care of him now, nor any home to go to.  His mother was killed in a railroad accident.  They are going to ship him off to the orphant asylum next week, Miss Keith says.  If he was only a girl, Aunt Pen would take him to raise, but they’ve decided not to have any boys at Oak Knoll.  Guiseppe and Rivers were the only ones ever there, and now Rivers’ mother can take him again, and Aunt Pen has sent Guiseppe across the ocean to study music.  ’F I was bigger I’d adopt Billy myself.  I just love babies.  When I grow up I’m going to be mother of forty girls, like Aunt Pen is.”

Amused, shocked, scandalized, the young woman in black listened to the strange prattle of the child, who spoke as she thought; but when the busy tongue momentarily ceased its chatter, and Peace sat gazing thoughtfully out across the green fields where already the grain grew thick and tall, Mrs. Wood timidly ventured the question, “How old is Billy Bolée?”

“O, he’s a little fellow.  Dr. Dick says he prob’ly wasn’t more’n two years old when he first came to the hospital, but he has been here as much as six months now.  He couldn’t talk American at first, and Dr. Kruger had to tell the nurses what he said.  But even Dr. Kruger couldn’t understand what his name was, so they took to calling him Billy Bolée.  He’s Dutch, you know.  They let him run all around the place now, and he is the dearest little fellow!”

“Where is he now?”

“O, I expect he’s in the office.  Miss Murch tries to keep him there as much as she can, so’s they will know where he is, I guess.  Sometimes he gets pretty noisy and the sick folks don’t like to have him running up and down the halls.”

“By the way, I meant to have spoken to Miss Murch about some supplies our Aid Society wants to purchase for the hospital.  I think I’ll just slip downstairs now and attend to it while I am waiting for Dickson.  If he comes before I get back, tell him that I am in the office.”  Almost before Peace realized it, she was gone, and the invalid was left to her own devices once more.

When the busy doctor, detained longer than he had expected to be, returned for his sister, she was nowhere in sight, and Peace lay fast asleep in her wheel-chair by the window.

“Guess Kit got tired of waiting for me and went home,” he mused.  So he hurried down the stairway and was about to step out of the great front doors, when a familiar, ringing laugh from the office close by made him pause and open his eyes in wonder, as he ejaculated under his breath, “If that isn’t Kit, I’ll eat my hat!”

Before he could retrace his steps, however, a flushed, radiant figure flashed into the hallway, and Keturah-a rejuvenated Kit with a crimson carnation in her belt and another tucked in the coils of her glossy hair-exclaimed, “O, Dick, come see what this little rogue has done!”

Then he noticed what had escaped his attention before,-she was leading little lame Billy Bolée by the hand.  Puzzled, yet strangely relieved at the vision, the doctor followed her into the office, where she pointed at scores of little red and green patches plastered hit or miss on the smooth walls.

“Why, what ?” he began.

“See what they are?” asked the amused sister.

He looked more closely at the haphazard decorations, then exclaimed, “Postage stamps, I’ll be bound!”

“Yes.  Five dollars’ worth,” laughed Keturah infectiously.  “And the worst of it is, most of them will have to be soaked off with water.  Billy Bolée did his job well.  Do you suppose the mucilage will make him sick?  By the way, Dickson, I am going to take Billy home with me.  It won’t be too cool in the auto for him without any wraps, will it?  He has nothing but a heavy winter coat, and he will roast in that.”

Slowly the doctor turned and looked searchingly at his sister.  She flushed under his gaze, but did not flinch.

“I have been talking to Dr. Kruger,” she said, as if in answer to his unspoken question, “and he thinks there will be no difficulty about our securing adoption papers,-if we decide to keep him.”

“But, Kit,” stammered the mystified man, “how-why-what?”

“O,” she laughed a little sheepishly, “that rude, out-spoken creature in the wheel-chair by the window where you left me told me that I ought to adopt him, and I’m not sure but that she is right.”

“She is not rude,” the doctor suddenly contradicted, a vision of the brown-eyed idol of the hospital flashing up before him.  “She merely believes in voicing her thoughts; but she is the essence of compassion and love.  She would not want to wound another’s feelings for anything in the world.”

“Well, anyway, she certainly can wake folks up,” the woman insisted.

“Thank God for that,” said the man under his breath, and leaving the nurses to rescue what of the luckless postage stamps they could, he conducted Keturah and happy little Billy Bolée to his car, waiting at the curb.