A Garland for GirlsLouisa May Alcott
Produced by Charles Aldarondo and the Online DistributedProofreading Team
A GARLAND FOR GIRLS
By Louisa May Alcott
TO R.A. LAWRENCE
THIS LITTLE BOOK IS AFFECTIONATELY INSCRIBED BY HER GRATEFUL FRIEND,
AN IVY SPRAY AND LADIES' SLIPPERS
POPPIES AND WHEAT
MOUNTAIN-LAUREL AND MAIDEN-HAIR
These stories were written for my own amusement during a period ofenforced seclusion. The flowers which were my solace and pleasuresuggested titles for the tales and gave an interest to the work.
If my girls find a little beauty or sunshine in these commonblossoms, their old friend will not have made her Garland in vain.
Being Boston girls, of course they got up a club for mentalimprovement, and, as they were all descendants of the PilgrimFathers, they called it the Mayflower Club. A very good name, andthe six young girls who were members of it made a very pretty posywhen they met together, once a week, to sew, and read well-chosenbooks. At the first meeting of the season, after being separated allsummer, there was a good deal of gossip to be attended to before thequestion, "What shall we read?" came up for serious discussion.
Anna Winslow, as president, began by proposing "Happy Dodd;" but achorus of "I've read it!" made her turn to her list for anothertitle.
"'Prisoners of Poverty' is all about workingwomen, very true andvery sad; but Mamma said it might do us good to know something ofthe hard times other girls have," said Anna, soberly; for she was athoughtful creature, very anxious to do her duty in all ways.
"I'd rather not know about sad things, since I can't help to makethem any better," answered Ella Carver, softly patting the appleblossoms she was embroidering on a bit of blue satin.
"But we might help if we really tried, I suppose; you know how muchHappy Dodd did when she once began, and she was only a poor littlegirl without half the means of doing good which we have," said Anna,glad to discuss the matter, for she had a little plan in her headand wanted to prepare a way for proposing it.
"Yes, I'm always saying that I have more than my share of fun andcomfort and pretty things, and that I ought and will share them withsome one. But I don't do it; and now and then, when I hear aboutreal poverty, or dreadful sickness, I feel so wicked it quite upsetsme. If I knew HOW to begin, I really would. But dirty littlechildren don't come in my way, nor tipsy women to be reformed, nornice lame girls to sing and pray with, as it all happens in books,"cried Marion Warren, with such a remorseful expression on her merryround face that her mates laughed with one accord.
"I know something that I COULD do if I only had the courage to beginit. But Papa would shake his head unbelievingly, and Mamma worryabout its being proper, and it would interfere with my music, andeverything nice that I especially wanted to go to would be sureto come on whatever day I set for my good work, and I should getdiscouraged or ashamed, and not half do it, so I don't begin, but Iknow I ought." And Elizabeth Alden rolled her large eyes from onefriend to another, as if appealing to them to goad her to this dutyby counsel and encouragement of some sort.
"Well, I suppose it's right, but I do perfectly hate to go pokinground among poor folks, smelling bad smells, seeing dreadful sights,hearing woful tales, and running the risk of catching fever, anddiphtheria, and horrid things. I don't pretend to like charity, butsay right out I'm a silly, selfish wretch, and want to enjoy everyminute, and not worry about other people. Isn't it shameful?"
Maggie Bradford looked such a sweet little sinner as she boldly madethis sad confession, that no one could scold her, though IdaStandish, her bosom friend, shook her head, and Anna said, with asigh: "I'm afraid we all feel very much as Maggie does, though wedon't own it so honestly. Last spring, when I was ill and thought Imight die, I was so ashamed of my idle, frivolous winter, that Ifelt as if I'd give all I had to be able to live it over and dobetter. Much is not expected of a girl of eighteen, I know; but oh!there were heaps of kind little things I MIGHT have done if I hadn'tthought only of myself. I resolved if I lived I'd try at least to beless selfish, and make some one happier for my being in the world. Itell you, girls, it's rather solemn when you lie expecting to die,and your sins come up before you, even though they are very smallones. I never shall forget it, and after my lovely summer I mean tobe a better girl, and lead a better life if I can."
Anna was so much in earnest that her words, straight out of a veryinnocent and contrite heart, touched her hearers deeply, and putthem into the right mood to embrace her proposition. No one spokefor a moment, then Maggie said quietly,--
"I know what it is. I felt very much so when the horses ran away,and for fifteen minutes I sat clinging to Mamma, expecting to bekilled. Every unkind, undutiful word I'd ever said to her came backto me, and was worse to bear than the fear of sudden death. Itscared a great deal of naughtiness out of me, and dear Mamma and Ihave been more to each other ever since."
"Let us begin with 'The Prisoners of Poverty,' and perhaps it willshow us something to do," said Lizzie. "But I must say I never feltas if shop-girls needed much help; they generally seem so contentedwith themselves, and so pert or patronizing to us, that I don't pitythem a bit, though it must be a hard life."
"I think we can't do MUCH in that direction, except set an exampleof good manners when we go shopping. I wanted to propose that weeach choose some small charity for this winter, and do itfaithfully. That will teach us how to do more by and by, and we canhelp one another with our experiences, perhaps, or amuse with ourfailures. What do you say?" asked Anna, surveying her five friendswith a persuasive smile.
"What COULD we do?"
"People will call us goody-goody."
"I haven't the least idea how to go to work."
"Don't believe Mamma will let me."
"We'd better change our names from May Flowers to sisters ofcharity, and wear meek black bonnets and flapping cloaks."
Anna received these replies with great composure, and waited for themeeting to come to order, well knowing that the girls would havetheir fun and outcry first, and then set to work in good earnest.
"I think it's a lovely idea, and I'll carry out my plan. But I won'ttell what it is yet; you'd all shout, and say I couldn't do it, butif you were trying also, that would keep me up to the mark," saidLizzie, with a decided snap of her scissors, as she trimmed theedges of a plush case for her beloved music.
"Suppose we all keep our attempts secret, and not let our right handknow what the left hand does? It's such fun to mystify people, andthen no one can laugh at us. If we fail, we can say nothing; if wesucceed, we can tell of it and get our reward. I'd like that way,and will look round at once for some especially horrid boot-black,ungrateful old woman, or ugly child, and devote myself to him, her,or it with the patience of a saint," cried Maggie, caught by theidea of doing good in secret and being found out by accident.
The other girls agreed, after some discussion, and then Anna tookthe floor again.
"I propose that we each work in our own way till next May, then, atour last meeting, report what we have done, truly and honestly, andplan something better for next year. Is it a vote?"
It evidently was a unanimous vote, for five gold thimbles went up,and five blooming faces smiled as the five girlish voices cried,"Aye!"
"Very well, now let us decide what to read, and begin at once. Ithink the 'Prisoners' a good book, and we shall doubtless get somehints from it."
So they began, and for an hour one pleasant v
oice after the otherread aloud those sad, true stories of workingwomen and their hardlives, showing these gay young creatures what their pretty clothescost the real makers of them, and how much injustice, suffering, andwasted strength went into them. It was very sober reading, but mostabsorbing; for the crochet needles went slower and slower, thelace-work lay idle, and a great tear shone like a drop of dew on theapple blossoms as Ella listened to "Rose's Story." They skipped thestatistics, and dipped here and there as each took her turn; butwhen the two hours were over, and it was time for the club toadjourn, all the members were deeply interested in that patheticbook, and more in earnest than before; for this glimpse into otherlives showed them how much help was needed, and made them anxious tolend a hand.
"We can't do much, being 'only girls,'" said Anna; "but if each doesone small chore somewhere it will pave the way for better work; sowe will all try, at least, though it seems like so many ants tryingto move a mountain."
"Well, ants build nests higher than a man's head in Africa; youremember the picture of them in our old geographies? And we can doas much, I'm sure, if each tugs her pebble or straw faithfully. Ishall shoulder mine to-morrow if Mamma is willing," answered Lizzie,shutting up her work-bag as if she had her resolution inside and wasafraid it might evaporate before she got home.
"I shall stand on the Common, and proclaim aloud, 'Here's a niceyoung missionary, in want of a job! Charity for sale cheap! Who'llbuy? who'll buy?'" said Maggie, with a resigned expression, and asanctimonious twang to her voice.
"I shall wait and see what comes to me, since I don't know what I'mfit for;" and Marion gazed out of the window as if expecting to seesome interesting pauper waiting for her to appear.
"I shall ask Miss Bliss for advice; she knows all about the poor,and will give me a good start," added prudent Ida, who resolved todo nothing rashly lest she should fail.
"I shall probably have a class of dirty little girls, and teach themhow to sew, as I can't do anything else. They won't learn much, butsteal, and break, and mess, and be a dreadful trial, and I shall getlaughed at and wish I hadn't done it. Still I shall try it, andsacrifice my fancy-work to the cause of virtue," said Ella,carefully putting away her satin glove-case with a fond glance atthe delicate flowers she so loved to embroider.
"I have no plans, but want to do so much! I shall have to wait tillI discover what is best. After to-day we won't speak of our work, orit won't be a secret any longer. In May we will report. Good luck toall, and good-by till next Saturday."
With these farewell words from their president the girls departed,with great plans and new ideas simmering in their young heads andhearts.
It seemed a vast undertaking; but where there is a will there isalways a way, and soon it was evident that each had found "a littlechore" to do for sweet charity's sake. Not a word was said at theweekly meetings, but the artless faces betrayed all shades of hope,discouragement, pride, and doubt, as their various attempts seemedlikely to succeed or fail. Much curiosity was felt, and a fewaccidental words, hints, or meetings in queer places, were veryexciting, though nothing was discovered.
Marion was often seen in a North End car, and Lizzie in a South Endcar, with a bag of books and papers. Ella haunted a certain shopwhere fancy articles were sold, and Ida always brought plain sewingto the club. Maggie seemed very busy at home, and Anna was foundwriting industriously several times when one of her friends called.All seemed very happy, and rather important when outsidersquestioned them about their affairs. But they had their pleasures asusual, and seemed to enjoy them with an added relish, as if theyrealized as never before how many blessings they possessed, and weregrateful for them.
So the winter passed, and slowly something new and pleasant seemedto come into the lives of these young girls. The listless,discontented look some of them used to wear passed away; a sweetearnestness and a cheerful activity made them charming, though theydid not know it, and wondered when people said, "That set of girlsare growing up beautifully; they will make fine women by and by."The mayflowers were budding under the snow, and as spring came onthe fresh perfume began to steal out, the rosy faces to brighten,and the last year's dead leaves to fall away, leaving the youngplants green and strong.
On the 15th of May the club met for the last time that season, assome left town early, and all were full of spring work and summerplans. Every member was in her place at an unusually early hour thatday, and each wore an air of mingled anxiety, expectation, andsatisfaction, pleasant to behold. Anna called them to order withthree raps of her thimble and a beaming smile.
"We need not choose a book for our reading to-day, as each of us isto contribute an original history of her winter's work. I know itwill be very interesting, and I hope more instructive, than some ofthe novels we have read. Who shall begin?"
"You! you!" was the unanimous answer; for all loved and respectedher very much, and felt that their presiding officer should open theball.
Anna colored modestly, but surprised her friends by the composurewith which she related her little story, quite as if used to publicspeaking.
"You know I told you last November that I should have to look aboutfor something that I COULD do. I did look a long time, and wasrather in despair, when my task came to me in the most unexpectedway. Our winter work was being done, so I had a good deal ofshopping on my hands, and found it less a bore than usual, because Iliked to watch the shop-girls, and wish I dared ask some of them ifI could help them. I went often to get trimmings and buttons atCotton's, and had a good deal to do with the two girls at thatcounter. They were very obliging and patient about matching some jetornaments for Mamma, and I found out that their names were Mary andMaria Porter. I liked them, for they were very neat and plain intheir dress,--not like some, who seem to think that if their waistsare small, and their hair dressed in the fashion, it is no matterhow soiled their collars are, nor how untidy their nails. Well, oneday when I went for certain kinds of buttons which were to be madefor us, Maria, the younger one, who took the order, was not there. Iasked for her, and Mary said she was at home with a lame knee. I wasso sorry, and ventured to put a few questions in a friendly way.Mary seemed glad to tell her troubles, and I found that 'Ria,' asshe called her sister, had been suffering for a long time, but didnot complain for fear of losing her place. No stools are allowed atCotton's, so the poor girls stand nearly all day, or rest a minutenow and then on a half-opened drawer. I'd seen Maria doing it, andwondered why some one did not make a stir about seats in this place,as they have in other stores and got stools for the shop women. Ididn't dare to speak to the gentlemen, but I gave Mary the Jackroses I wore in my breast, and asked if I might take some books orflowers to poor Maria. It was lovely to see her sad face light upand hear her thank me when I went to see her, for she was verylonely without her sister, and discouraged about her place. She didnot lose it entirely, but had to work at home, for her lame kneewill be a long time in getting well. I begged Mamma and Mrs.Ailingham to speak to Mr. Cotton for her; so she got the mending ofthe jet and bead work to do, and buttons to cover, and things ofthat sort. Mary takes them to and fro, and Maria feels so happy notto be idle. We also got stools, for all the other girls in thatshop. Mrs. Allingham is so rich and kind she can do anything, andnow it's such a comfort to see those tired things resting when offduty that I often go in and enjoy the sight."
Anna paused as cries of "Good! good!" interrupted her tale; but shedid not add the prettiest part of it, and tell how the faces of theyoung women behind the counters brightened when she came in, nor howgladly all served the young lady who showed them what a truegentlewoman was.
"I hope that isn't all?" said Maggie, eagerly.
"Only a little more. I know you will laugh when I tell you that I'vebeen reading papers to a class of shop-girls at the Union once aweek all winter."
A murmur of awe and admiration greeted this deeply interestingstatement; for, true to the traditions of the modern Athens in whichthey lived, the girls all felt the highest respect for "papers" onany
subject, it being the fashion for ladies, old and young, to readand discuss every subject, from pottery to Pantheism, at the variousclubs all over the city.
"It came about very naturally," continued Anna, as if anxious toexplain her seeming audacity. "I used to go to see Molly and Ria,and heard all about their life and its few pleasures, and learned tolike them more and more. They had only each other in the world,lived in two rooms, worked all day, and in the way of amusement orinstruction had only what they found at the Union in the evening. Iwent with them a few times, and saw how useful and pleasant it was,and wanted to help, as other kind girls only a little older than Idid. Eva Randal read a letter from a friend in Russia one time, andthe girls enjoyed it very much. That reminded me of my brotherGeorge's lively journals, written when he was abroad. You rememberhow we used to laugh over them when he sent them home? Well, when Iwas begged to give them an evening, I resolved to try one of thoseamusing journal-letters, and chose the best,--all about how Georgeand a friend went to the different places Dickens describes in someof his funny books. I wish you could have seen how those dear girlsenjoyed it, and laughed till they cried over the dismay of the boys,when they knocked at a door in Kingsgate Street, and asked if Mrs.Gamp lived there. It was actually a barber's shop, and a little man,very like Poll Sweedlepipes, told them 'Mrs. Britton was the nuss aslived there now.' It upset those rascals to come so near the truth,and they ran away because they couldn't keep sober."
The members of the club indulged in a general smile as they recalledthe immortal Sairey with "the bottle on the mankle-shelf," the"cowcuber," and the wooden pippins. Then Anna continued, with an airof calm satisfaction, quite sure now of her audience and herself,--
"It was a great success. So I went on, and when the journals weredone, I used to read other things, and picked up books for theirlibrary, and helped in any way I could, while learning to know thembetter and give them confidence in me. They are proud and shy, justas we should be but if you REALLY want to be friends and don't mindrebuffs now and then, they come to trust and like you, and there isso much to do for them one never need sit idle any more. I won'tgive names, as they don't like it, nor tell how I tried to servethem, but it is very sweet and good for me to have found this work,and to know that each year I can do it better and better. So I feelencouraged and am very glad I began, as I hope you all are. Now, whocomes next?"
As Anna ended, the needles dropped and ten soft hands gave her ahearty round of applause; for all felt that she had done well, andchosen a task especially fitted to her powers, as she had money,time, tact, and the winning manners that make friends everywhere.
Beaming with pleasure at their approval, but feeling that they madetoo much of her small success, Anna called the club to order bysaying, "Ella looks as if she were anxious to tell her experiences,so perhaps we had better ask her to hold forth next."
"Hear! hear!" cried the girls; and, nothing loath, Ella promptlybegan, with twinkling eyes and a demure smile, for HER story endedromantically.
"If you are interested in shop-girls, Miss President and ladies, youwill like to know that _I_ am one, at least a silent partner andco-worker in a small fancy store at the West End."
"No!" exclaimed the amazed club with one voice; and, satisfied withthis sensational beginning Ella went on.
"I really am, and you have bought some of my fancy-work. Isn't thata good joke? You needn't stare so, for I actually made thatneedle-book, Anna, and my partner knit Lizzie's new cloud. This isthe way it all happened. I didn't wish to waste any time, but onecan't rush into the street and collar shabby little girls, and say,'Come along and learn to sew,' without a struggle, so I thought I'dgo and ask Mrs. Brown how to begin. Her branch of the AssociatedCharities is in Laurel Street, not far from our house, you know; andthe very day after our last meeting I posted off to get my 'chore.'I expected to have to fit work for poor needlewomen, or go to seesome dreadful sick creature, or wash dirty little Pats, and wasbracing up my mind for whatever might come, as I toiled up the hillin a gale of wind. Suddenly my hat flew off and went gayly skippingaway, to the great delight of some black imps, who only grinned andcheered me on as I trotted after it with wild grabs and wrathfuldodges. I got it at last out of a puddle, and there I was in a nicemess. The elastic was broken, feather wet, and the poor thing allmud and dirt. I didn't care much, as it was my old one,--dressed formy work, you see. But I couldn't go home bareheaded, and I didn'tknow a soul in that neighborhood. I turned to step into a grocerystore at the corner, to borrow a brush or buy a sheet of paper towear, for I looked like a lunatic with my battered hat and my hairin a perfect mop. Luckily I spied a woman's fancy shop on the othercorner, and rushed in there to hide myself, for the brats hooted andpeople stared. It was a very small shop, and behind the counter sata tall, thin, washed-out-looking woman, making a baby's hood. Shelooked poor and blue and rather sour, but took pity on me; and whileshe sewed the cord, dried the feather, and brushed off the dirt, Iwarmed myself and looked about to see what I could buy in return forher trouble.
"A few children's aprons hung in the little window, with some knitlace, balls, and old-fashioned garters, two or three dolls, and avery poor display of small wares. In a show-case, however, on thetable that was the counter, I found some really pretty things, madeof plush, silk, and ribbon, with a good deal of taste. So I said I'dbuy a needle-book, and a gay ball, and a pair of distracting baby'sshoes, made to look like little open-work socks with pinkankle-ties, so cunning and dainty, I was glad to get them for CousinClara's baby. The woman seemed pleased, though she had a grim way oftalking, and never smiled once. I observed that she handled my hatas if used to such work, and evidently liked to do it. I thanked herfor repairing damages so quickly and well, and she said, with my haton her hand, as if she hated to part with it, 'I'm used tomillineryin' and never should have give it up, if I didn't have myfolks to see to. I took this shop, hopin' to make things go, as sucha place was needed round here, but mother broke down, and is a sightof care; so I couldn't leave her, and doctors is expensive, andtimes hard, and I had to drop my trade, and fall back on pins andneedles, and so on.'"
Ella was a capital mimic, and imitated the nasal tones of theVermont woman to the life, with a doleful pucker of her own bloomingface, which gave such a truthful picture of poor Miss Almira Millerthat those who had seen her recognized it at once, and laughedgayly.
"Just as I was murmuring a few words of regret at her bad luck,"continued Ella, "a sharp voice called out from a back room, 'Almiry!Almiry! come here.' It sounded very like a cross parrot, but it wasthe old lady, and while I put on my hat I heard her asking who wasin the shop, and what we were 'gabbin' about.' Her daughter toldher, and the old soul demanded to 'see the gal;' so I went in, beingready for fun as usual. It was a little, dark, dismal place, but asneat as a pin, and in the bed sat a regular Grandma Smallweedsmoking a pipe, with a big cap, a snuff-box, and a red cottonhandkerchief. She was a tiny, dried-up thing, brown as a berry, witheyes like black beads, a nose and chin that nearly met, and handslike birds' claws. But such a fierce, lively, curious, blunt oldlady you never saw, and I didn't know what would be the end of mewhen she began to question, then to scold, and finally to demandthat 'folks should come and trade to Almiry's shop after promisin'they would, and she havin' took a lease of the place on account ofthem lies.' I wanted to laugh, but dared not do it, so just let hercroak, for the daughter had to go to her customers. The old lady'stirade informed me that they came from Vermont, had 'been wal on 'ttill father died and the farm was sold.' Then it seems the womencame to Boston and got on pretty well till 'a stroke of numb-palsy,'whatever that is, made the mother helpless and kept Almiry at hometo care for her. I can't tell you how funny and yet how sad it wasto see the poor old soul, so full of energy and yet so helpless, andthe daughter so discouraged with her pathetic little shop and nocustomers to speak of. I did not know what to say till 'GrammerMiller,' as the children call her, happened to say, when she took upher knitting after the lecture, 'If folks who go spen
din' moneyreckless on redic'lus toys for Christmas only knew what nice things,useful and fancy, me and Almiry could make ef we had the goods,they'd jest come round this corner and buy 'em, and keep me out of aOld Woman's Home and that good, hard-workin' gal of mine out of a'sylum; for go there she will ef she don't get a boost somehow, withrent and firin' and vittles all on her shoulders, and me only ableto wag them knittin'-needles.'
"'I will buy things here, and tell all my friends about it, and Ihave a drawer full of pretty bits of silk and velvet and plush, thatI will give Miss Miller for her work, if she will let me.' I addedthat, for I saw that Almiry was rather proud, and hid her troublesunder a grim look.
"That pleased the old lady, and, lowering her voice, she said, witha motherly sort of look in her beady eyes: 'Seein' as you are sofriendly, I'll tell you what frets me most, a layin' here, a burdento my darter. She kep' company with Nathan Baxter, a mastercarpenter up to Westminster where we lived, and ef father hadn't adied suddin' they'd a ben married. They waited a number o' years,workin' to their trades, and we was hopin' all would turn out wal,when troubles come, and here we be. Nathan's got his own folks tosee to, and Almiry won't add to HIS load with hern, nor leave me; soshe give him back his ring, and jest buckled to all alone. She don'tsay a word, but it's wearin' her to a shadder, and I can't do athing to help, but make a few pinballs, knit garters, and kiverholders. Ef she got a start in business it would cheer her up asight, and give her a kind of a hopeful prospeck, for old folkscan't live forever, and Nathan is a waitin', faithful and true.'
"That just finished me, for I am romantic, and do enjoy love storieswith all my heart, even if the lovers are only a skinny spinster anda master carpenter. So I just resolved to see what I could do forpoor Almiry and the peppery old lady. I didn't promise anything butmy bits, and, taking the things I bought, went home to talk it overwith Mamma. I found she had often got pins and tape, and such smallwares, at the little shop, and found it very convenient, though sheknew nothing about the Millers. She was willing I should help if Icould, but advised going slowly, and seeing what they could dofirst. We did not dare to treat them like beggars, and send themmoney and clothes, and tea and sugar, as we do the Irish, for theywere evidently respectable people, and proud as poor. So I took mybundle of odds and ends, and Mamma added some nice large pieces ofdresses we had done with, and gave a fine order for aprons andholders and balls for our church fair.
"It would have done your hearts good, girls, to see those poor oldfaces light up as I showed my scraps, and asked if the work would beready by Christmas. Grammer fairly swam in the gay colors I strewedover her bed, and enjoyed them like a child, while Almiry tried tobe grim, but had to give it up, as she began at once to cut outaprons, and dropped tears all over the muslin when her back wasturned to me. I didn't know a washed-out old maid COULD be sopathetic."
Ella stopped to give a regretful sigh over her past blindness, whileher hearers made a sympathetic murmur; for young hearts are verytender, and take an innocent interest in lovers' sorrows, no matterhow humble.
"Well, that was the beginning of it. I got so absorbed in makingthings go well that I didn't look any further, but just 'buckled to'with Miss Miller and helped run that little shop. No one knew me inthat street, so I slipped in and out, and did what I liked. The oldlady and I got to be great friends; though she often pecked andcroaked like a cross raven, and was very wearing. I kept her busywith her 'pin-balls and knittin'-work, and supplied Almiry withpretty materials for the various things I found she could make. Youwouldn't believe what dainty bows those long fingers could tie, whatravishing doll's hats she would make out of a scrap of silk andlace, or the ingenious things she concocted with cones and shellsand fans and baskets. I love such work, and used to go and help heroften, for I wanted her window and shop to be full for Christmas,and lure in plenty of customers. Our new toys and the little casesof sewing silk sold well, and people began to come more, after Ilent Almiry some money to lay in a stock of better goods. Papaenjoyed my business venture immensely, and was never tired of jokingabout it. He actually went and bought balls for four small blackboys who were gluing their noses to the window one day, spellboundby the orange, red, and blue treasures displayed there. He liked mypartner's looks, though he teased me by saying that we'd better addlemonade to our stock, as poor, dear Almiry's acid face would makelemons unnecessary, and sugar and water were cheap.
"Well, Christmas came, and we did a great business, for Mamma cameand sent others, and our fancy things were as pretty and cheaperthan those at the art stores, so they went well, and the Millerswere cheered up, and I felt encouraged, and we took a fresh startafter the holidays. One of my gifts at New Year was my ownglove-case,--you remember the apple-blossom thing I began lastautumn? I put it in our window to fill up, and Mamma bought it, andgave it to me full of elegant gloves, with a sweet note, and Papasent a check to 'Miller, Warren & Co.' I was so pleased and proud Icould hardly help telling you all. But the best joke was the day yougirls came in and bought our goods, and I peeped at you through thecrack of the door, being in the back room dying with laughter to seeyou look round, and praise our 'nice assortment of useful and prettyarticles.'"
"That's all very well, and we can bear to be laughed at if yousucceeded, Miss. But I don't believe you did, for no Millers arethere now. Have you taken a palatial store on Boylston Street forthis year, intending to run it alone? We'll all patronize it, andyour name will look well on a sign," said Maggie, wondering what theend of Ella's experience had been.
"Ah! I still have the best of it, for my romance finished updelightfully, as you shall hear. We did well all winter, and nowonder. What was needed was a little 'boost' in the right direction,and I could give it; so my Millers were much comforted, and we weregood friends. But in March Grammer died suddenly, and poor Almirymourned as if she had been the sweetest mother in the world. The oldlady's last wishes were to be 'laid out harnsome in a cap with apale blue satin ribbin, white wasn't becomin', to hev at least threecarriages to the funeral, and be sure a paper with her death in itwas sent to N. Baxter, Westminster, Vermont.'
"I faithfully obeyed her commands, put on the ugly cap myself, gavea party of old ladies from the home a drive in the hacks, andcarefully directed a marked paper to Nathan, hoping that he HADproved 'faithful and true.' I didn't expect he would, so was notsurprised when no answer came. But I WAS rather amazed when Almirytold me she didn't care to keep on with the store now she was free.She wanted to visit her friends a spell this spring, and in the fallwould go back to her trade in some milliner's store.
"I was sorry, for I really enjoyed my partnership. It seemed alittle bit ungrateful after all my trouble in getting her customers,but I didn't say anything, and we sold out to the Widow Bates, whois a good soul with six children, and will profit by our efforts.
"Almiry bid me good-by with all the grim look gone out of her face,many thanks, and a hearty promise to write soon. That was in April.A week ago I got a short letter saying,--
"'DEAR FRIEND,--You will be pleased to hear that I am married to Mr.Baxter, and shall remain here. He was away when the paper came withmother's death, but as soon as he got home he wrote. I couldn't makeup my mind till I got home and see him. Now it's all right, and I amvery happy. Many thanks for all you done for me and mother. I shallnever forget it My husband sends respects, and I remain Yoursgratefully, ALMIRA M. BAXTER.'"
"That's splendid! You did well, and next winter you can look upanother sour spinster and cranky old lady and make them happy," saidAnna, with the approving smile all loved to receive from her.
"My adventures are not a bit romantic, or even interesting, and yetI've been as busy as a bee all winter, and enjoyed my work verymuch," began Elizabeth, as the President gave her a nod.
"The plan I had in mind was to go and carry books and papers to thepeople in hospitals, as one of Mamma's friends has done for years. Iwent once to the City Hospital with her, and it was veryinteresting, but I didn't dare to go to the grown people all alone,
so I went to the Children's Hospital, and soon loved to help amusethe poor little dears. I saved all the picture-books and papers Icould find for them, dressed dolls, and mended toys, and got newones, and made bibs and night-gowns, and felt like the mother of alarge family.
"I had my pets, of course, and did my best for them, reading andsinging and amusing them, for many suffered very much. One littlegirl was so dreadfully burned she could not use her hands, and wouldlie and look at a gay dolly tied to the bedpost by the hourtogether, and talk to it and love it, and died with it on her pillowwhen I 'sung lullaby' to her for the last time. I keep it among mytreasures, for I learned a lesson in patience from little Norah thatI never can forget.
"Then Jimmy Dolan with hip disease was a great delight to me, for hewas as gay as a lark in spite of pain, and a real little hero in theway he bore the hard things that had to be done to him. He never canget well, and he is at home now; but I still see to him, and he islearning to make toy furniture very nicely, so that by and by, if hegets able to work at all, he may be able to learn a cabinet-maker'strade, or some easy work.
"But my pet of pets was Johnny, the blind boy. His poor eyes had tobe taken out, and there he was left so helpless and pathetic, allhis life before him, and no one to help him, for his people werepoor and he had to go away from the hospital since he was incurable.He seemed almost given to me, for the first time I saw him I wassinging to Jimmy, when the door opened and a small boy came fumblingin.
"'I hear a pretty voice, I want to find it,' he said, stopping as Istopped with both hands out as if begging for more.
"'Come on. Johnny, and the lady will sing to you like a bobolink,'called Jimmy, as proud as Barnum showing off Jumbo.
"The poor little thing came and stood at my knee, without stirring,while I sang all the nursery jingles I knew. Then he put such a thinlittle finger on my lips as if to feel where the music came from,and said, smiling all over his white face, 'More, please more, lotsof 'em! I love it!'
"So I sang away till I was as hoarse as a crow, and Johnny drank itall in like water; kept time with his head, stamped when I gave him'Marching through Georgia,' and hurrahed feebly in the chorus of'Red, White, and Blue.' It was lovely to see how he enjoyed it, andI was so glad I had a voice to comfort those poor babies with. Hecried when I had to go, and so touched my heart that I asked allabout him, and resolved to get him into the Blind School as the onlyplace where he could be taught and made happy."
"I thought you were bound there the day I met you, Lizzie; but youlooked as solemn as if all your friends had lost their sight," criedMarion.
"I did feel solemn, for if Johnny could not go there he would bebadly off. Fortunately he was ten, and dear Mrs. Russell helped me,and those good people took him in though they were crowded. 'Wecannot turn one away,' said kind Mr. Parpatharges.
"So there my boy is, as happy as a king with his little mates,learning all sorts of useful lessons and pretty plays. He modelsnicely in clay. Here is one of his little works. Could you do aswell without eyes?" and Lizzie proudly produced a very one-sidedpear with a long straw for a stem. "I don't expect he will ever be asculptor, but I hope he will do something with music he loves it so,and is already piping away on a fife very cleverly. Whatever hisgift may prove, if he lives, he will be taught to be a useful,independent man, not a helpless burden, nor an unhappy creaturesitting alone in the dark. I feel very happy about my lads, and amsurprised to find how well I get on with them. I shall look up somemore next year, for I really think I have quite a gift that way,though you wouldn't expect it, as I have no brothers, and always hada fancy boys were little imps."
The girls were much amused at Lizzie's discovery of her own powers,for she was a stately damsel, who never indulged in romps, but livedfor her music. Now it was evident that she had found the key tounlock childish hearts, and was learning to use it, quiteunconscious that the sweet voice she valued so highly was muchimproved by the tender tones singing lullabies gave it. The fat pearwas passed round like refreshments, receiving much praise and noharsh criticism; and when it was safely returned to its proudpossessor, Ida began her tale in a lively tone.
"I waited for MY chore, and it came tumbling down our basement stepsone rainy day in the shape of a large dilapidated umbrella with apair of small boots below it. A mild howl made me run to open thedoor, for I was at lunch in the dining-room, all alone, and ratherblue because I couldn't go over to see Ella. A very small girl laywith her head in a puddle at the foot of the steps, the boots wavingin the air, and the umbrella brooding over her like a draggled greenbird.
"'Are you hurt, child?' said I.
"'No, I thank you, ma'am,' said the mite quite calmly, as she sat upand settled a woman's shabby black hat on her head.
"'Did you come begging?' I asked.
"'No, ma'am, I came for some things Mrs. Grover's got for us. Shetold me to. I don't beg.' And up rose the sopping thing with greatdignity.
"So I asked her to sit down, and ran up to call Mrs. Grover. She wasbusy with Grandpa just then, and when I went back to my lunch theresat my lady with her arms folded, water dripping out of the toes ofher old boots as they hung down from the high chair, and the biggestblue eyes I ever saw fixed upon the cake and oranges on the table. Igave her a piece, and she sighed with rapture, but only picked at ittill I asked if she didn't like it.
"'Oh yes, 'm, it's elegant! Only I was wishin' I could take it toCaddy and Tot, if you didn't mind. They never had frostin' in alltheir lives, and I did once.'
"Of course I put up a little basket of cake and oranges and figs,and while Lotty feasted, we talked. I found that their mother washeddishes all day in a restaurant over by the Albany Station, leavingthe three children alone in the room they have on Berry Street.Think of that poor thing going off before light these wintermornings to stand over horrid dishes all day long, and those threescraps of children alone till night! Sometimes they had a fire, andwhen they hadn't they stayed in bed. Broken food and four dollars aweek was all the woman got, and on that they tried to live. GoodMrs. Grover happened to be nursing a poor soul near Berry Streetlast summer, and used to see the three little things trailing roundthe streets with no one to look after them.
"Lotty is nine, though she looks about six, but is as old as mostgirls of fourteen, and takes good care of 'the babies,' as she callsthe younger ones. Mrs. Grover went to see them, and, though ahard-working creature, did all she could for them. This winter shehas plenty of time to sew, for Grandpapa needs little done for himexcept at night and morning, and that kind woman spent her ownmoney, and got warm flannel and cotton and stuff, and made eachchild a good suit. Lotty had come for hers, and when the bundle wasin her arms she hugged it close, and put up her little face to kissGrover so prettily, I felt that I wanted to do something too. So Ihunted up Min's old waterproof and rubbers, and a hood, and sentLotty home as happy as a queen, promising to go and see her. I didgo, and there was my work all ready for me. Oh, girls! such a bare,cold room, without a spark of fire, and no food but a pan of bits ofpie and bread and meat, not fit for any one to eat, and in the bed,with an old carpet for cover, lay the three children. Tot and Caddycuddled in the warmest place, while Lotty, with her little bluehands, was trying to patch up some old stockings with bits ofcotton. I didn't know how to begin, but Lotty did, and I just tookher orders; for that wise little woman told me where to buy a bushelof coal and some kindlings, and milk and meal, and all I wanted. Iworked like a beaver for an hour or two, and was so glad I'd been toa cooking-class, for I could make a fire, with Lotty to do thegrubby part, and start a nice soup with the cold meat and potatoes,and an onion or so. Soon the room was warm, and full of a nicesmell, and out of bed tumbled 'the babies,' to dance round the stoveand sniff at the soup, and drink milk like hungry kittens, till Icould get bread and butter ready.
"It was great fun! and when we had cleared things up a bit, and I'dput food for supper in the closet, and told Lotty to warm a bowl ofsoup for her mother and keep the fire going, I went home tired andd
irty, but very glad I'd found something to do. It is perfectlyamazing how little poor people's things cost, and yet they can't getthe small amount of money needed without working themselves todeath. Why, all I bought didn't cost more than I often spend forflowers, or theatre tickets, or lunches, and it made those poorbabies so comfortable I could have cried to think I'd never done itbefore."
Ida paused to shake her head remorsefully, then went on with herstory, sewing busily all the while on an unbleached cottonnight-gown which looked about fit for a large doll.
"I have no romantic things to tell, for poor Mrs. Kennedy was ashiftless, broken-down woman, who could only 'sozzle round,' as Mrs.Grover said, and rub along with help from any one who would lend ahand. She had lived out, married young, and had no faculty aboutanything; so when her husband died, and she was left with threelittle children, it was hard to get on, with no trade, feeblehealth, and a discouraged mind. She does her best, loves the girls,and works hard at the only thing she can find to do; but when shegives out, they will all have to part,--she to a hospital, and thebabies to some home. She dreads that, and tugs away, trying to keeptogether and get ahead. Thanks to Mrs. Grover, who is very sensible,and knows how to help poor people, we have made things comfortable,and the winter has gone nicely.
"The mother has got work nearer home, Lotty and Caddy go to school,and Tot is safe and warm, with Miss Parsons to look after her. MissParsons is a young woman who was freezing and starving in a littleroom upstairs, too proud to beg and too shy and sick to get muchwork. I found her warming her hands one day in Mrs. Kennedy's room,and hanging over the soup-pot as if she was eating the smell. Itreminded me of the picture in Punch where the two beggar boys lookin at a kitchen, sniffing at the nice dinner cooking there. Onesays, 'I don't care for the meat, Bill, but I don't mind if I takesa smell at the pudd'n' when it's dished.' I proposed a lunch atonce, and we all sat down, and ate soup out of yellow bowls withpewter spoons with such a relish it was fun to see. I had on my oldrig; so poor Parsons thought I was some dressmaker or work-girl, andopened her heart to me as she never would have done if I'd gone anddemanded her confidence, and patronized her, as some people do whenthey want to help. I promised her some work, and proposed that sheshould do it in Mrs. K.'s room, as a favor, mind you, so that theolder girls could go to school and Tot have some one to look afterher. She agreed, and that saved her fire, and made the K.'s allright. Sarah (that's Miss P.) tried to stiffen up when she learnedwhere I lived; but she wanted the work, and soon found I didn't puton airs, but lent her books, and brought her and Tot my bouquets andfavors after a german, and told her pleasant things as she satcooking her poor chilblainy feet in the oven, as if she never couldget thawed out.
"This summer the whole batch are to go to Uncle Frank's farm andpick berries, and get strong. He hires dozens of women and childrenduring the fruit season, and Mrs. Grover said it was just what theyall needed. So off they go in June, as merry as grigs, and I shallbe able to look after them now and then, as I always go to the farmin July. That's all,--not a bit interesting, but it came to me, andI did it, though only a small chore."
"I'm sure the helping of five poor souls is a fine work, and you maywell be proud of it, Ida. Now I know why you wouldn't go to matineeswith me, and buy every pretty thing we saw as you used to. Thepocket money went for coal and food, and your fancy work was littleclothes for these live dolls of yours. You dear thing! how good youwere to cook, and grub, and prick your fingers rough, and give upfun, for this kind work!"
Maggie's hearty kiss, and the faces of her friends, made Ida feelthat her humble task had its worth in their eyes, as well as in herown; and when the others had expressed their interest in her work,all composed themselves to hear what Marion had to tell.
"I have been taking care of a scarlet runner,--a poor oldfrost-bitten, neglected thing; it is transplanted now, and doingwell, I'm happy to say."
"What do you mean?" asked Ella, while the rest looked very curious.
Marion picked up a dropped stitch in the large blue sock she wasknitting, and continued, with a laugh in her eyes: "My dears, thatis what we call the Soldiers' Messenger Corps, with their red capsand busy legs trotting all day. I've had one of them to care for,and a gorgeous time of it, I do assure you. But before I exult overmy success, I must honestly confess my failures, for they were sadones. I was so anxious to begin my work at once, that I did go outand collar the first pauper I saw. It was an old man, who sometimesstands at the corners of streets to sell bunches of ugly paperflowers. You've seen him, I dare say, and his magenta daisies andyellow peonies. Well, he was rather a forlorn object, with his poorold red nose, and bleary eyes, and white hair, standing at the windycorners silently holding out those horrid flowers. I bought all hehad that day, and gave them to some colored children on my way home,and told him to come to our house and get an old coat Mamma waswaiting to get rid of. He told a pitiful story of himself and hisold wife, who made the paper horrors in her bed, and how they neededeverything, but didn't wish to beg. I was much touched, and flewhome to look up the coat and some shoes, and when my old Lear camecreeping in the back way, I ordered cook to give him a warm dinnerand something nice for the old woman.
"I was called upstairs while he was mumbling his food, and blessingme in the most lovely manner; and he went away much comforted, Iflattered myself. But an hour later, up came the cook in a greatpanic to report that my venerable and pious beggar had carried offseveral of Papa's shirts and pairs of socks out of the clothes-basketin the laundry, and the nice warm hood we keep for the girl to hangout clothes in.
"I was VERY angry, and, taking Harry with me, went at once to theaddress the old rascal gave me, a dirty court out of Hanover StreetNo such person had ever lived there, and my white-haired saint was ahumbug. Harry laughed at me, and Mamma forbade me to bring any morethieves to the house, and the girls scolded awfully.
"Well, I recovered from the shock, and, nothing daunted, went off tothe little Irishwoman who sells apples on the Common,--not the fat,tosey one with the stall near West Street, but the dried-up one whosits by the path, nodding over an old basket with six apples andfour sticks of candy in it. No one ever seems to buy anything, butshe sits there and trusts to kind souls dropping a dime now andthen; she looks so feeble and forlorn, 'on the cold, cold ground.'
"She told me another sad tale of being all alone and unable to work,and 'as wake as wather-grewl, without a hap-worth av flesh upon mebones, and for the love of Heaven gimme a thrifle to kape the breathav loife in a poor soul, with a bitter hard winter over me, andniver a chick or child to do a hand's turn.' I hadn't much faith inher, remembering my other humbug, but I did pity the old mummy; so Igot some tea and sugar, and a shawl, and used to give her my oddpennies as I passed. I never told at home, they made such fun of myefforts to be charitable. I thought I really was getting on prettywell after a time, as my old Biddy seemed quite cheered up, and Iwas planning to give her some coal, when she disappeared all of asudden. I feared she was ill, and asked Mrs. Maloney, the fat woman,about her.
"'Lord love ye, Miss dear, it's tuk up and sint to the Island fortree months she is; for a drunken ould crayther is Biddy Ryan, andniver a cint but goes for whiskey,--more shame to her, wid a finebye av her own ready to kape her daycint.'
"Then I WAS discouraged, and went home to fold my hands, and seewhat fate would send me, my own efforts being such failures."
"Poor thing, it WAS hard luck!" said Elizabeth, as they sobered downafter the gale of merriment caused by Marion's mishaps, and herclever imitation of the brogue.
"Now tell of your success, and the scarlet runner," added Maggie.
"Ah! that was SENT, and so I prospered. I must begin ever so farback, in war times, or I can't introduce my hero properly. You knowPapa was in the army, and fought all through the war tillGettysburg, where he was wounded. He was engaged just before hewent; so when his father hurried to him after that awful battle,Mamma went also, and helped nurse him till he could come home. Hewouldn't go to an offic
er's hospital, but kept with his men in apoor sort of place, for many of his boys were hit, and he wouldn'tleave them. Sergeant Joe Collins was one of the bravest, and losthis right arm saving the flag in one of the hottest struggles ofthat great fight. He had been a Maine lumberman, and was over sixfeet tall, but as gentle as a child, and as jolly as a boy, and veryfond of his colonel.
"Papa left first, but made Joe promise to let him know how he goton, and Joe did so till he too went home. Then Papa lost sight ofhim, and in the excitement of his own illness, and the end of thewar, and being married, Joe Collins was forgotten, till we childrencame along, and used to love to hear the story of Papa's battles,and how the brave sergeant caught the flag when the bearer was shot,and held it in the rush till one arm was blown off and the otherwounded. We have fighting blood in us, you know, so we were nevertired of that story, though twenty-five years or more make it allas far away to us as the old Revolution, where OUR ancestor waskilled, at OUR Bunker Hill!
"Last December, just after my sad disappointments, Papa came home todinner one day, exclaiming, in great glee: 'I've found old Joe! Amessenger came with a letter to me, and when I looked up to give myanswer, there stood a tall, grizzled fellow, as straight as aramrod, grinning from ear to ear, with his hand to his temple,saluting me in regular style. "Don't you remember Joe Collins,Colonel? Awful glad to see you, sir," said he. And then it all cameback, and we had a good talk, and I found out that the poor old boywas down on his luck, and almost friendless, but as proud andindependent as ever, and bound to take care of himself while he hada leg to stand on. I've got his address, and mean to keep an eye onhim, for he looks feeble and can't make much, I'm sure.'
"We were all very glad, and Joe came to see us, and Papa sent him onendless errands, and helped him in that way till he went to NewYork. Then, in the fun and flurry of the holidays, we forgot allabout Joe, till Papa came home and missed him from his post. I saidI'd go and find him; so Harry and I rummaged about till we did findhim, in a little house at the North End, laid up with rheumaticfever in a stuffy back room, with no one to look after him but thewasherwoman with whom he boarded.
"I was SO sorry we had forgotten him! but HE never complained, onlysaid, with his cheerful grin,' I kinder mistrusted the Colonel wasaway, but I wasn't goin' to pester him.' He tried to be jolly,though in dreadful pain; called Harry 'Major,' and was so gratefulfor all we brought him, though he didn't want oranges and tea, andmade us shout when I said, like a goose, thinking that was theproper thing to do, 'Shall I bathe your brow, you are so feverish?'
"'No, thanky, miss, it was swabbed pretty stiddy to the horsepittle,and I reckon a trifle of tobaccer would do more good and be a sightmore relishin', ef you'll excuse my mentionin' it.'
"Harry rushed off and got a great lump and a pipe, and Joe layblissfully puffing, in a cloud of smoke, when we left him, promisingto come again. We did go nearly every day, and had lovely times; forJoe told us his adventures, and we got so interested in the war thatI began to read up evenings, and Papa was pleased, and fought allhis battles over again for us, and Harry and I were great friendsreading together, and Papa was charmed to see the old General'sspirit in us, as we got excited and discussed all our wars in afever of patriotism that made Mamma laugh. Joe said I 'brustled up'at the word BATTLE like a war-horse at the smell of powder, and I'dought to have been a drummer, the sound of martial music made me so'skittish.'
"It was all new and charming to us young ones, but poor old Joe hada hard time, and was very ill. Exposure and fatigue, and scantyfood, and loneliness, and his wounds, were too much for him, and itwas plain his working days were over. He hated the thought of thepoor-house at home, which was all his own town could offer him, andhe had no friends to live with, and he could not get a pension,something being wrong about his papers; so he would have been badlyoff, but for the Soldiers' Home at Chelsea. As soon as he was able,Papa got him in there, and he was glad to go, for that seemed theproper place, and a charity the proudest man might accept, afterrisking his life for his country.
"There is where I used to be going when you saw me, and I was SOafraid you'd smell the cigars in my basket. The dear old boys alwayswant them, and Papa says they MUST have them, though it isn't halfso romantic as flowers, and jelly, and wine, and the dainty messeswe women always want to carry. I've learned about different kinds oftobacco and cigars, and you'd laugh to see me deal out my gifts,which are received as gratefully as the Victoria Cross, when theQueen decorates HER brave men. I'm quite a great gun over there, andthe boys salute when I come, tell me their woes, and think that Papaand I can run the whole concern. I like it immensely, and am asproud and fond of my dear old wrecks as if I'd been a Rigoletto, andridden on a cannon from my babyhood. That's MY story, but I can'tbegin to tell how interesting it all is, nor how glad I am that itled me to look into the history of American wars, in which brave menof our name did their parts so well."
A hearty round of applause greeted Marion's tale, for her glowingface and excited voice stirred the patriotic spirit of the Bostongirls, and made them beam approvingly upon her.
"Now, Maggie, dear, last but not least, I'm sure," said Anna, withan encouraging glance, for SHE had discovered the secret of thisfriend, and loved her more than ever for it.
Maggie blushed and hesitated, as she put down the delicate muslincap-strings she was hemming with such care. Then, looking about herwith a face in which both humility and pride contended, she saidwith an effort, "After the other lively experiences, mine will soundvery flat. In fact, I have no story to tell, for MY charity began athome, and stopped there."
"Tell it, dear. I know it is interesting, and will do us all good,"said Anna, quickly; and, thus supported, Maggie went on.
"I planned great things, and talked about what I meant to do, tillPapa said one day, when things were in a mess, as they often are atour house, 'If the little girls who want to help the world alongwould remember that charity begins at home, they would soon findenough to do.'
"I was rather taken aback, and said no more, but after Papa had goneto the office, I began to think, and looked round to see what therewas to be done at that particular moment. I found enough for thatday, and took hold at once; for poor Mamma had one of her badheadaches, the children could not go out because it rained, and sowere howling in the nursery, cook was on a rampage, and Maria hadthe toothache. Well, I began by making Mamma lie down for a goodlong sleep. I kept the children quiet by giving them my ribbon boxand jewelry to dress up with, put a poultice on Maria's face, andoffered to wash the glass and silver for her, to appease cook, whowas as cross as two sticks over extra work washing-day. It wasn'tmuch fun, as you may imagine, but I got through the afternoon, andkept the house still, and at dusk crept into Mamma's room and softlybuilt up the fire, so it should be cheery when she waked. Then Iwent trembling to the kitchen for some tea, and there found threegirls calling, and high jinks going on; for one whisked a plate ofcake into the table drawer, another put a cup under her shawl, andcook hid the teapot, as I stirred round in the china closet beforeopening the slide, through a crack of which I'd seen, heard, andsmelt 'the party,' as the children call it.
"I was angry enough to scold the whole set, but I wisely held mytongue, shut my eyes, and politely asked for some hot water, noddedto the guests, and told cook Maria was better, and would do her workif she wanted to go out.
"So peace reigned, and as I settled the tray, I heard cook say inher balmiest tone, for I suspect the cake and tea lay heavy on herconscience, 'The mistress is very poorly, and Miss takes nice careof her, the dear.'
"All blarney, but it pleased me and made me remember how feeble poorMamma was, and how little I really did. So I wept a repentant weepas I toiled upstairs with my tea and toast, and found Mamma allready for them, and so pleased to find things going well. I saw bythat what a relief it would be to her if I did it oftener, as Iought, and as I resolved that I would.
"I didn't say anything, but I kept on doing whatever came along, andbefore I knew it ever
so many duties slipped out of Mamma's handsinto mine, and seemed to belong to me. I don't mean that I likedthem, and didn't grumble to myself; I did, and felt regularlycrushed and injured sometimes when I wanted to go and have my ownfun. Duty is right, but it isn't easy, and the only comfort about itis a sort of quiet feeling you get after a while, and a strongfeeling, as if you'd found something to hold on to and keep yousteady. I can't express it, but you know?" And Maggie lookedwistfully at the other faces, some of which answered her with aquick flash of sympathy, and some only wore a puzzled yet respectfulexpression, as if they felt they ought to know, but did not.
"I need not tire you with all my humdrum doings," continued Maggie."I made no plans, but just said each day, 'I'll take what comes,and try to be cheerful and contented.' So I looked after thechildren, and that left Maria more time to sew and help round. I diderrands, and went to market, and saw that Papa had his mealscomfortably when Mamma was not able to come down. I made calls forher, and received visitors, and soon went on as if I were the ladyof the house, not 'a chit of a girl,' as Cousin Tom used to call me.
"The best of all were the cosey talks we had in the twilight, Mammaand I, when she was rested, and all the day's worry was over, and wewere waiting for Papa. Now, when he came, I didn't have to go away,for they wanted to ask and tell me things, and consult aboutaffairs, and make me feel that I was really the eldest daughter. Oh,it was just lovely to sit between them and know that they needed me,and loved to have me with them! That made up for the hard anddisagreeable things, and not long ago I got my reward. Mamma isbetter, and I was rejoicing over it, when she said,' Yes, I reallyam mending now, and hope soon to be able to relieve my good girl.But I want to tell you, dear, that when I was most discouraged mygreatest comfort was, that if I had to leave my poor babies theywould find such a faithful little mother in you.'
"I was SO pleased I wanted to cry, for the children DO love me, andrun to me for everything now, and think the world of Sister, andthey didn't use to care much for me. But that wasn't all. I oughtnot to tell these things, perhaps, but I'm so proud of them I can'thelp it. When I asked Papa privately, if Mamma was REALLY better andin no danger of falling ill again, he said, with his arms round me,and such a tender kiss,--
"'No danger now, for this brave little girl put her shoulder to thewheel so splendidly, that the dear woman got the relief from careshe needed just at the right time, and now she really rests surethat we are not neglected. You couldn't have devoted yourself to abetter charity, or done it more sweetly, my darling. God blessyou!'"
Here Maggie's voice gave out, and she hid her face, with a happysob, that finished her story eloquently. Marion flew to wipe hertears away with the blue sock, and the others gave a sympatheticmurmur, looking much touched; forgotten duties of their own rosebefore them, and sudden resolutions were made to attend to them atonce, seeing how great Maggie's reward had been.
"I didn't mean to be silly; but I wanted you to know that I hadn'tbeen idle all winter, and that, though I haven't much to tell, I'mquite satisfied with my chore," she said, looking up with smilesshining through the tears till her face resembled a rose in asun-shower.
"Many daughters have done well, but thou excellest them all,"answered Anna, with a kiss that completed her satisfaction.
"Now, as it is after our usual time, and we must break up,"continued the President, producing a basket of flowers from itshiding-place, "I will merely say that I think we have all learned agood deal, and will be able to work better next winter; for I amsure we shall want to try again, it adds so much sweetness to ourown lives to put even a little comfort into the hard lives of thepoor. As a farewell token, I sent for some real Plymouth mayflowers,and here they are, a posy apiece, with my love and many thanks foryour help in carrying out my plan so beautifully."
So the nosegays were bestowed, the last lively chat enjoyed, newplans suggested, and goodbyes said; then the club separated, eachmember going gayly away with the rosy flowers on her bosom, and init a clearer knowledge of the sad side of life, a fresh desire tosee and help still more, and a sweet satisfaction in the thoughtthat each had done what she could.