A Garland for Girls, Page 2Louisa May Alcott
AN IVY SPRAY AND LADIES' SLIPPERS
"IT can't be done! So I may as well give it I up and get a new pair.I long for them, but I'm afraid my nice little plan for Laura willbe spoilt," said Jessie Delano to herself, as she shook her headover a pair of small, dilapidated slippers almost past mending.While she vainly pricked her fingers over them for the last time,her mind was full of girlish hopes and fears, as well as ofanxieties far too serious for a light-hearted creature of sixteen.
A year ago the sisters had been the petted daughters of a rich man;but death and misfortune came suddenly, and now they were left toface poverty alone. They had few relations, and had offended therich uncle who offered Jessie a home, because she refused to beseparated from her sister. Poor Laura was an invalid, and no onewanted her; but Jessie would not leave her, so they clung togetherand lived on in the humble rooms where their father died, trying toearn their bread by the only accomplishments they possessed. Laurapainted well, and after many disappointments was beginning to find asale for her dainty designs and delicate flowers. Jessie had anatural gift for dancing; and her former teacher, a kind-heartedFrenchwoman, offered her favorite pupil the post of assistantteacher in her classes for children.
It cost the girl a struggle to accept a place of this sort and be ahumble teacher, patiently twirling stupid little boys and girlsround and round over the smooth floor where she used to dance sohappily when she was the pride of the class and the queen of theclosing balls. But for Laura's sake she gratefully accepted theoffer, glad to add her mite to their small store, and to feel thatshe could help keep the wolf from the door. They had seemed to hearthe howl of this dreaded phantom more than once during that year,and looked forward to the long hard winter with an anxiety whichneither would confess to the other. Laura feared to fall ill if sheworked too hard, and then what would become of this pretty youngsister who loved her so tenderly and would not be tempted to leaveher? And Jessie could do very little except rebel against their hardfate and make impracticable plans. But each worked bravely, talkedcheerfully, and waited hopefully for some good fortune to befallthem, while doubt and pain and poverty and care made the younghearts so heavy that the poor girls often fell asleep on pillows wetwith secret tears.
The smaller trials of life beset Jessie at this particular moment,and her bright wits were trying to solve the problem how to spendher treasured five dollars on slippers for herself and paints forLaura. Both were much needed, and she had gone in shabby shoes tosave up money for the little surprise on which she had set herheart; but now dismay fell upon her when the holes refused to becobbled, and the largest of bows would not hide the worn-out toes inspite of ink and blacking lavishly applied.
"These are the last of my dear French slippers, and I can't affordany more. I hate cheap things! But I shall have to get them; for myboots are shabby, and every one has to look at my feet when I lead.Oh dear, what a horrid thing it is to be poor!" and Jessie surveyedthe shabby little shoes affectionately, as her eyes filled withtears; for the road looked very rough and steep now, when sheremembered how she used to dance through life as happy as abutterfly in a garden full of sunshine and flowers.
"Now, Jess, no nonsense, no red eyes to tell tales! Go and do yourerrands, and come in as gay as a lark, or Laura will be worried."And springing up, the girl began to sing instead of sob, as shestirred about her dismal little room, cleaning her old gloves,mending her one white dress, and wishing with a sigh of intenselonging that she could afford some flowers to wear, every ornamenthaving been sold long ago. Then, with a kiss and a smile to herpatient sister, she hurried away to get the necessary slippers andthe much-desired paints, which Laura would not ask for, though herwork waited for want of them.
Having been reared in luxury, poor little Jessie's tastes were allof the daintiest sort; and her hardest trial, after Laura's feeblehealth, was the daily sacrifice of the many comforts and elegancesto which she had been accustomed. Faded gowns, cleaned gloves, andmended boots cost her many a pang, and the constant temptation ofseeing pretty, useful, and unattainable things was a very hard one.Laura rarely went out, and so was spared this cross; then she wasthree years older, had always been delicate, and lived much in ahappy world of her own. So Jessie bore her trials silently, butsometimes felt very covetous and resentful to see so much pleasure,money, and beauty in the world, and yet have so little of it fall toher lot.
"I feel as if I could pick a pocket to-day and not mind a bit, if itwere a rich person's. It's a shame, when papa was always sogenerous, that no one remembers us. If ever I'm rich again, I'lljust hunt up all the poor girls I can find, and give them niceshoes, if nothing else," she thought, as she went along the crowdedstreets, pausing involuntarily at the shop windows to look withlonging eyes at the treasures within.
Resisting the allurements of French slippers with bows and buckles,she wisely bought a plain, serviceable pair, and trudged away,finding balm for her wounds in the fact that they were very cheap.More balm came when she met a young friend, who joined her as shestood wistfully eying the piles of grapes in a window and longing tobuy some for Laura.
This warm-hearted schoolmate read the wish before Jessie saw her,and gratified it so adroitly that the girl could accept the prettybasketful sent to her sister without feeling like a spendthrift or abeggar. It comforted her very much, and the world began to lookbrighter after that little touch of kindness, as it always does whengenuine sympathy makes sunshine in shady places.
At the art store she was told that more of Laura's autumn-flowerswere in demand; and her face was so full of innocent delight andgratitude it quite touched the old man who sold her the paints, andgave her more than her money's worth, remembering his own hard timesand pitying the pretty young girl whose father he had known.
So Jessie did not have to pretend very hard at being "as gay as alark" when she got home and showed her treasures. Laura was so happyover the unexpected gifts that the dinner of bread and milk andgrapes was quite a picnic; and Jessie found a smile on her face whenshe went to dress for her party.
It was only a child's party at the house of one of Mademoiselle'spupils, and Jessie was merely invited to help the little peoplethrough their dancing. She did not like to go in this way, as shewas sure to meet familiar faces there, full of the pity, curiosity,or indifference so hard for a girl to bear. But Mademoiselle askedit as a favor, and Jessie was grateful; so she went, expecting nopleasure and certain of much weariness, if not annoyance.
When she was ready,--and it did not take long to slip on the whitewoollen dress, brush out the curly dark hair, and fold up slippersand gloves,--she stood before her glass looking at herself, quiteconscious that she was very pretty, with her large eyes, bloomingcheeks, and the lofty little air which nothing could change. She wasalso painfully conscious that her dress was neither fresh norbecoming without a bit of ribbon or a knot of flowers to give it thetouch of color it needed. She had an artistic eye, and used todelight in ordering charming costumes for herself in the happy dayswhen all her wishes were granted as if fairies still lived. Shetossed over her very small store of ribbons in vain; everything hadbeen worn till neither beauty nor freshness remained.
"Oh dear! where CAN I find something to make me look less like anun,--and a very shabby one, too?" she said, longing for the pinkcorals she sold to pay Laura's doctor's bill.
The sound of a soft tap, tap, tap, startled her, and she ran to openthe door. No one was there but Laura, fast asleep on the sofa. Tap,tap, tap! went the invisible hand; and as the sound seemed to comefrom the window, Jessie glanced that way, thinking her tame dove hadcome to be fed. Neither hungry dove nor bold sparrow appeared,--onlya spray of Japanese ivy waving in the wind. A very pretty spray itwas, covered with tiny crimson leaves; and it tapped impatiently, asif it answered her question by saying, "Here is a garland for you;come and take it."
Jessie's quick eye was caught at once by the fine color, and runningto the window she looked out as eagerly as if a new idea had comeinto her head. It was a dull Nov
ember day, and the prospect ofsheds, ash-barrels, and old brooms was a gloomy one; but the wholeback of the house glowed with the red tendrils of the hardy vinethat clung to and covered the dingy bricks with a royal mantle, asif eager to cheer the eyes and hearts of all who looked. It preacheda little sermon of courage, aspiration, and content to those who hadthe skill to read it, and bade them see how, springing from thescanty soil of that back yard full of the commonest objects, thehumblest work, it set its little creepers in the crannies of thestone, and struggled up to find the sun and air, till it grew strongand beautiful,--making the blank wall green in summer, glorious inautumn, and a refuge in winter, when it welcomed the sparrows to theshelter of its branches where the sun lay warmest.
Jessie loved this beautiful neighbor, and had enjoyed it all thatsummer,--the first she ever spent in the hot city. She felt thegrace its greenness gave to all it touched, and half unconsciouslyimitated it in trying to be brave and bright, as she also climbed upfrom the dismal place where she seemed shut away from everythinglovely, till she was beginning to discover that the blue sky wasover all, the sun still shone for her, and heaven's fresh air kissedher cheeks as kindly as ever. Many a night she had leaned from thehigh window when Laura was asleep, dreaming innocent dreams, livingover her short past, or trying to look into the future bravely andtrustfully. The little vine had felt warmer drops than rain or dewfall on it when things went badly, had heard whispered prayers whenthe lonely child asked the Father of the fatherless for help andcomfort, had peeped in to see her sleeping peacefully when the hardhour was over, and been the first to greet her with a tap on thewindow-pane as she woke full of new hope in the morning. It seemedto know all her moods and troubles, to be her friend and confidante,and now came with help like a fairy godmother when our Cinderellawanted to be fine for the little ball.
"Just the thing! Why didn't I think of it? So bright and delicateand becoming? It will last better than flowers; and no one can thinkI'm extravagant, since it costs nothing."
As she spoke, Jessie was gathering long sprays of the rosy vine,with its glossy leaves so beautifully shaded that it was evidentJack Frost had done his best for it. Going to her glass, shefastened a wreath of the smallest leaves about her head, set acluster of larger ones in her bosom, and then surveyed herself withgirlish pleasure, as well she might; for the effect of the simpledecoration was charming. Quite satisfied now, she tied on her cloudand slipped away without waking Laura, little dreaming what goodfortune the ivy spray was to bring them both.
She found the children prancing with impatience to begin theirballet, much excited by the music, gaslight, and gay dresses, whichmade it seem like "a truly ball." All welcomed Jessie, and she soonforgot the cheap slippers, mended gloves, and old dress, as shegayly led her troop through the pretty dance with so much grace andskill that the admiring mammas who lined the walls declared it wasthe sweetest thing they ever saw.
"Who is that little person?" asked one of the few gentlemen whohovered about the doorways.
His hostess told Jessie's story in a few words, and was surprised tohear him say in a satisfied tone,--
"I'm glad she is poor. I want her head, and now there is some chanceof getting it."
"My dear Mr. Vane, what DO you mean?" asked the lady, laughing.
"I came to study young faces; I want one for a picture, and thatlittle girl with the red leaves is charming. Please present me."
"No use; you may ask for her hand by-and-by, if you like, but notfor her head. She is very proud, and never would consent to sit as amodel, I'm sure."
"I think I can manage it, if you will kindly give me a start."
"Very well. The children are just going down to supper, and MissDelano will rest. You can make your bold proposal now, if you dare."
A moment later, as she stood watching the little ones troop away,Jessie found herself bowing to the tall gentleman, who begged toknow what he could bring her with as much interest as if she hadbeen the finest lady in the room. Of course she chose ice-cream, andslipped into a corner to rest her tired feet, preferring thedeserted parlor to the noisy dining-room,--not being quite surewhere she belonged now.
Mr. Vane brought her a salver full of the dainties girls best love,and drawing up a table began to eat and talk in such a simple,comfortable way that Jessie could not feel shy, but was soon quiteat her ease. She knew that he was a famous artist, and longed totell him about poor Laura, who admired his pictures so much andwould have enjoyed every moment of this chance interview. He was nota very young man, nor a handsome one, but he had a genial face, andthe friendly manners which are so charming; and in ten minutesJessie was chatting freely, quite unconscious that the artist wasstudying her in a mirror all the while. They naturally talked of thechildren, and after praising the pretty dance Mr. Vane quietlyadded,--
"I've been trying--to find a face among them for a picture I'mdoing; but the little dears are all too young, and I must lookelsewhere for a model for my wood-nymph."
"Are models hard to find?" asked Jessie, eating her ice with therelish of a girl who does not often taste it.
"What I want is very hard to find. I can get plenty of beggar-girls,but this must be a refined face, young and blooming, but with poetryin it; and that does not come without a different training from anymy usual models get. It will be difficult to suit me, for I'm in ahurry and don't know where to look,"--which last sentence was notquite true, for the long glass showed him exactly what he wanted.
"I help Mademoiselle with her classes, and she has pupils of allages; perhaps you could find some one there."
Jessie looked so interested that the artist felt that he had begunwell, and ventured a step further as he passed the cake-basket forthe third time.
"You are very kind; but the trouble there is, that I fear none ofthe young ladies would consent to sit to me if I dared to ask them.I will confide to you that I HAVE seen a head which quite suits me;but I fear I cannot get it. Give me your advice, please. Should youthink this pretty creature would be offended, if I made the requestmost respectfully?"
"No, indeed; I should think she would be proud to help with one ofyour pictures, sir. My sister thinks they are very lovely; and wekept one of them when we had to sell all the rest," said Jessie, inher eager, frank way.
"That was a beautiful compliment, and I am proud of it. Please tellher so, with my thanks. Which was it?"
"The woman's head,--the sad, sweet one people call a Madonna. Wecall it Mother, and love it very much, for Laura says it is like ourmother. I never saw her, but my sister remembers the dear face verywell."
Jessie's eyes dropped, as if tears were near; and Mr. Vane said, ina voice which showed he understood and shared her feeling,--
"I am very glad that anything of mine has been a comfort to you. Ithought of my own mother when I painted that picture years ago; soyou see you read it truly, and gave it the right name. Now, aboutthe other head; you think I may venture to propose the idea to itsowner, do you?"
"Why not, sir? She would be very silly to refuse, I think."
"Then YOU wouldn't be offended if asked to sit in this way?"
"Oh, no. I've sat for Laura many a time, and she says I make a verygood model. But then, she only paints simple little things that I amfit for."
"That is just what I want to do. Would you mind asking the younglady for me? She is just behind you."
Jessie turned with a start, wondering who had come in; but all shesaw was her own curious face in the mirror, and Mr. Vane's smilingone above it.
"Do you mean me?" she cried, so surprised and pleased and halfashamed that she could only blush and laugh and look prettier thanever.
"Indeed I do. Mrs. Murray thought the request would annoy you; but Ifancied you would grant it, you wore such a graceful little garland,and seemed so interested in the pictures here."
"It is only a bit of ivy, but so pretty I wanted to wear it, as Ihad nothing else," said the girl, glad that her simple ornamentfound favor in such eyes.
is most artistic, and caught my eye at once. I said to myself,'That is the head I want, and I MUST secure it if possible.' Can I?"asked Mr. Vane, smiling persuasively as he saw what a frank andartless young person he had to deal with.
"With pleasure, if Laura doesn't mind. I'll ask her, and if she iswilling I shall be very proud to have even my wreath in a famouspicture," answered Jessie, so full of innocent delight at being thushonored that it was a pretty sight to see.
"A thousand thanks! Now I can exult over Mrs. Murray, and get mypalette ready. When can we begin? As your sister is an invalid andcannot come to my studio with you, perhaps you will allow me to makemy sketch at your own house," said Mr. Vane, as pleased with hissuccess as only a perplexed artist could be.
"Did Mrs. Murray tell you about us?" asked Jessie quickly, as hersmiles faded away and the proud look came into her face; for she wassure their misfortunes were known, since he spoke of poor Laura'shealth.
"A little," began the new friend, with a sympathetic glance.
"I know models are paid for sitting; did you wish to do it with mebecause I'm poor?" asked Jessie, with an irrepressible frown and aglance at the thrice-cleaned dress and the neatly mended gloves.
Mr. Vane knew what thorn pricked the sensitive little girl, andanswered in his friendliest tone,--
"I never thought of such a thing. I wanted YOU to help ME, because Iam poor in what artists so much need,--real grace and beauty. Ihoped you would allow me to give your sister a copy of the sketch asa token of my gratitude for your great kindness."
The frown vanished and the smile returned as the soft answer turnedaway Jessie's wrath and made her hasten to say penitently,--
"I was very rude; but I haven't learned to be humble yet, and oftenforget that I am poor. Please come to us any time. Laura will enjoyseeing you work, and be delighted with anything you give her. Soshall I, though I don't deserve it."
"I won't punish you by painting the frown that quite frightened mejust now, but do my best to keep the happy face, and so heap coalsof fire on your head. They won't burn any more than the pretty redleaves that brought me this good fortune," answered the artist,seeing that his peace was made.
"I'm SO glad I wore them!" and as if trying to make amends for herlittle flash of temper, Jessie told him about the ivy, and how sheloved it,--unconsciously betraying more of her pathetic little storythan she knew, and increasing her hearer's interest in his newmodel.
The children came back in riotous spirits, and Jessie was called tolead the revels again. But now her heart was as light as her heels;for she had something pleasant to think of,--a hope of help forLaura, and the memory of kind words to make hard duties easier. Mr.Vane soon slipped away, promising to come the next day; and at eighto'clock Jessie ran home to tell her sister the good news, and topress the little wreath which had served her so well.
With the sanguine spirit of girlhood, she felt sure that somethingdelightful would happen, and built fine castles in the air for hersister, with a small corner for herself, where she could watch Laurabloom into a healthy woman and a great artist. The desire ofJessie's heart was to earn eneugh money to enable them to spend amonth or two at the seashore when summer came, as that was thesurest cure for Laura's weak nerves and muscles. She had cherishedthe wild idea of being a ballet-girl, as dancing was her delight;but every one frowned upon that plan, and her own refined naturetold her that it was not the life for a young girl. Mr. Vane'srequest for her head suggested a splendid hope; and after gettingangry with him for hinting at her being a model, she suddenlydecided to try it,--with the charming inconsistency of her sex. Themore she thought of it, the better she liked the idea, and resolvedto ask her new friend all about it, fondly hoping that much moneycould be made in this way.
She said nothing to her sister, but while she sat patiently to Mr.Vane when he came next day, she asked many questions; and thoughsomewhat discouraged by his replies, confided to him her hopes andbegged his advice. Being a wise man as well as a good and kindlyone, he saw at once that this life would not be safe for the pretty,impulsive, and tenderly reared girl, left so unprotected in a worldfull of trials and temptations. So he told her it would not do,except so far as she would allow him to make several studies of herhead in various characters and pay for them.
She consented, and though much disappointed found some consolationin hoarding a part of the handsome sum so earned for the desire ofher heart.
The artist seemed in no haste to finish his work, and for some weekscame often to the sittings in that quiet room; for it grew more andmore attractive to him, and while he painted the younger sister'schangeful face he studied the beautiful nature of the elder andlearned to love it. But no one guessed that secret for a long time;and Jessie was so busy racking her brain for a way to earn moremoney that she was as blind and deaf to much that went on before heras if she had been a wooden dummy.
Suddenly, when she least expected it, help came, and in such adelightful way that she long remembered the little episode withgirlish satisfaction. One day as she sat wearily waiting till thedressing-room was cleared of maids and children after thedancing-class was over, a former friend came sauntering up to her,saying In the tone which always nettled Jessie,--
"You poor thing! aren't you tired to death trying to teach thesestupid babies?"
"No; I love to dance, and we had new figures to-day. See! isn't thispretty?" and Jessie, who knew her own skill and loved to display it,twirled away as lightly as if her feet were not aching with twohours of hard work.
"Lovely! I do wish I ever could learn to keep time and not jerk andbounce. Being plump is a dreadful trial," sighed Fanny Fletcher, asJessie came back beaming and breathless.
"Perhaps I can teach you. I think of making this my profession sinceI must do something. Mademoiselle earns heaps of money by it," shesaid, sitting down to rest, resolved not to be ashamed of her workor to let Fanny pity her.
"I wish you COULD teach me, for I know I shall disgrace myself atthe Kirmess. You've heard about it, of course? So sorry you can'ttake a part, for it's going to be great fun and very splendid. I amin the Hungarian dance, and it's one of the hardest; but the dressis lovely, and I would be in it. Mamma is the matron of it; so I hadmy way, though I know the girls don't want me, and the boys make funof me. Just see if this isn't the queerest step you ever beheld!"
Fanny started bravely across the wide smooth floor, with a stamp, aslide, and a twirl which was certainly odd, but might have beenlively and graceful if she had not unfortunately been a very plump,awkward girl, with no more elasticity than a feather-bed. Jessiefound it impossible not to laugh when Fanny ended her display with asprawl upon the floor, and sat rubbing her elbows in an attitude ofdespair.
"I know that dance! It is the tzardas, and I can show you how itshould be done. Jump up and try it with me!" she said good-naturedly,running to help her friend up, glad to have a partner of her ownsize for once.
Away they went, but soon stopped; for Fanny could not keep step, andJessie pulled and stamped and hummed in vain.
"Do it alone; then I can see how it goes, and manage better nexttime," panted the poor girl, dropping down upon the velvet seatwhich ran round the hall.
Mademoiselle had come in and watched them for a moment. She saw atonce what was needed, and as Mrs. Fletcher was one of her bestpatrons, she was glad to oblige the oldest daughter; so she went tothe piano and struck up the proper air just as Jessie, with one armon her hip, the other on the shoulder of an invisible partner, wentdown the hall with a martial stamp, a quick slide, and a gracefulturn, in perfect time to the stirring music that made her nervestingle and her feet fly. To and fro, round and round, with allmanner of graceful gestures, intricate steps, and active bounds wentthe happy girl, quite carried away by the music and motion of thepastime she loved so much.
Fanny clapped her hands with admiration, and Mademoiselle cried,"Bien, tres bien, charmante, ma cherie!" as she paused at last, rosyand smiling, with one hand on her heart and the other at her templew
ith the salute that closed the dance.
"I MUST learn it! Do come and give me lessons at our house. I calledfor Maud and must go now. Will you come, Jessie? I'll be glad to payyou if you don't mind. I hate to be laughed at; and I know if someone would just help me alone I should do as well as the rest, forProfessor Ludwig raves at us all."
Fanny seemed in such a sad strait, and Jessie sympathized soheartily with her, that she could not refuse a request whichflattered her vanity and tempted her with a prospect of someaddition to the "Sister-fund," as she called her little savings. Soshe graciously consented, and after a few laborious lessonsprospered so well that her grateful pupil proposed to several otherunsuccessful dancers in the set to invite Jessie to the privaterehearsals held in various parlors as the festival drew near.
Some of these young people knew Jessie Delano, had missed the brightgirl, and gladly welcomed her back when, after much persuasion, sheagreed to go and help them with the difficult figures of thetzardas. Once among them she felt in her element, and trained theawkward squad so well that Professor Ludwig complimented them ontheir improvement at the public rehearsals, and raved no more, tothe great delight of the timid damsels, who lost their wits when thefiery little man shouted and wrung his hands over their mistakes.
The young gentlemen needed help also, as several of them looked verymuch like galvanized grasshoppers in their efforts to manage longlegs or awkward elbows. Jessie willingly danced with them, andshowed them how to move with grace and spirit, and handle theirpartners less like dolls and more like peasant maidens with whom themartial Hungarians were supposed to be disporting themselves at thefair. Merry meetings were these; and all enjoyed them, as youngpeople do whatever is lively, dramatic, and social. Every one wasfull of the brilliant Kirmess, which was the talk of the city, andto which every one intended to go as actor or spectator. Jessie wassadly tempted to spend three of her cherished dollars for a ticket,and perhaps would have done so if there had been any one to takecare of her. Laura could not go, and Mr. Vane was away; no otherfriend appeared, and no one remembered to invite her, so she bravelyhid her girlish longing, and got all the pleasure out of therehearsals that she could.
At the last of these, which was a full-dress affair at Fanny'shouse, something happened which not only tried Jessie's tempersorely, but brought her a reward for many small sacrifices. So muchdancing was very hard upon her slippers, the new pair were worn outlong ago, and a second pair were in a dangerous condition; butJessie hoped that they would last that evening, and then she wouldindulge in better ones with what Fanny would pay her. She hated totake it, but her salary at Mademoiselle's was needed at home; allshe could spare from other sources was sacredly kept for Laura'sjaunt, and only now and then did the good little girl buy some verynecessary article for herself. She was learning to be humble, tolove work, and be grateful for her small wages for her sister'ssake; and while she hid her trials, withstood her temptations, andbravely tugged away at her hard tasks, the kind Providence, whoteaches us the sweetness of adversity, was preparing a morebeautiful and helpful surprise than any she could plan or execute.
That night all were much excited, and great was the energy displayedas the scarlet, blue, and silver couples went through the rapidfigures with unusual spirit and success. The brass-heeled bootsstamped in perfect time, the furred caps waved, and the braidedjackets glittered as the gay troop swung to and fro or marched tothe barbaric music of an impromptu band. Jessie looked on with suchlonging in her eyes that Fanny, who was ill with a bad cold, kindlybegged her to take her place, as motion made her cough, and puttingon the red and silver cap sent her joyfully away to lead them all.
The fun grew rather fast and furious toward the end, and when thedance broke up there lay in the middle of the floor a shabby littleslipper, burst at the side, trodden down at the heel, and utterlydemoralized as to the bow with a broken buckle in it. Such adisreputable little shoe was it that no one claimed it when one ofthe young men held it up on the point of his sword, exclaiminggayly,--
"Where is Cinderella? Here's her shoe, and it's quite time she had anew pair. Glass evidently doesn't wear well now-a-days."
They all laughed and looked about to find the shoeless foot. Thegirls with small feet displayed them readily; those less blessed hidthem at once, and no Cinderella appeared to claim the old slipper.Jessie turned as red as her cap, and glanced imploringly at Fanny asshe slipped through a convenient door and flew up-stairs, knowingthat in a moment all would see that it must be hers, since the othergirls wore red boots as a part of their costume.
Fanny understood; and though awkward and slow with her feet, she waskind-hearted and quick to spare her friend the mortification which apoor and proud girl could not help feeling at such a moment. Theunfortunate slipper was flying from hand to hand as the youthsindulged in a boyish game of ball to tease the laughing girls, whohastened to disclaim all knowledge of "the horrid thing."
"Please give it to me!" cried Fanny, trying to catch it, and gladJessie was safe.
"No; Cinderella must come and put it on. Here's the Prince all readyto help her," said the finder of the shoe, holding it up.
"And here are lots of proud sisters ready to cut off their toes andheels if they could only get on such a small slipper," added anotheryoung Mygar, enjoying the fun immensely.
"Listen, and let me tell you something. It's Jessie Delano's, andshe has run away because she lost it. Don't laugh and make fun ofit, because it was worn out in helping us. You all know what a hardtime she has had, but you don't know how good and brave and patientshe is, trying to help poor Laura and to earn her living. I askedher to teach me, and I shall pay her well for it, because I couldn'thave gone on if she hadn't. If any of you feel as grateful as I do,and as sorry for her, you can show it in any kind way you please,for it must be dreadful to be so poor."
Fanny had spoken quickly, and at the last words hid the tremble inher voice with a cough, being rather scared at what she had done onthe impulse of the moment. But it was a true impulse, and thegenerous young hearts were quick to answer it. The old slipper wasrespectfully handed to her with many apologies and various penitentsuggestions. None were adopted just then, however, for Fanny ran offto find Jessie with her things on waiting for a chance to slip awayunseen. No persuasions would keep her to supper; and at last, withmany thanks, she was allowed to go, while Fanny returned to layplans with her guests as they disturbed their digestions withlobster salad, ice-cream, and strong coffee.
Feeling more than ever like Cinderella as she hurried out into thewinter night, leaving all the good times behind her, Jessie stoodwaiting for a car on the windy street-corner, with the raggedslippers under her arm, tears of weariness and vexation in her eyes,and a resentful feeling against an unjust fate lying heavy at herheart. The glimpses of her old gay, easy life, which theserehearsals had given her, made the real hardship and loneliness ofher present life all the more irksome, and that night she felt as ifshe could not bear it much longer. She longed with all a girl's loveof gayety to go to the Kirmess, and no one thought to invite her.She could not go alone even if she yielded to temptation and spenther own money. Laura would have to hire a carriage if she venturedto try it; so it was impossible, for six or seven dollars was afortune to the poor girls now. To have been one of the happycreatures who were to take part in it, to dance on the green in adainty costume to the music of a full band,--to see and do and enjoyall the delights of those two enchanting evenings, would have filledJessie's cup to overflowing. But since she might as well cry for themoon she tried to get some comfort out of imagining it all as sherumbled home in a snowstorm, and cried herself to sleep after givingLaura a cheerful account of the rehearsal, omitting the catastrophe.
The sun shone next morning, hope woke again, and as she dressedJessie sung to keep her heart up, still trusting that some one wouldremember her before the day was over. As she opened her windows thesparrows welcomed her with shrill chirpings, and the sun turned thesnow-covered vine to a glittering network very b
eautiful to see asit hung like a veil of lace over the dingy wall. Jessie smiled asshe saw it, while taking a long breath of the keen air, feelingcheered and refreshed by these familiar comforters; then with abrave, bright glance up at the clear blue sky she went away to theday's duties, little guessing what pleasant surprises were on theirway to reward her for the little sacrifices which were teaching herstrength, patience, and courage for greater ones by-and-by.
All the morning she listened eagerly for the bell, but nothing came;and at two o'clock she went away to the dancing-class, saying toherself with a sigh,--
"Every one is so busy, it is no wonder I'm forgotten. I shall hearabout the fun in the papers, and try to be contented with that."
Though she never felt less like dancing, she was very patient withher little pupils, and when the lesson was over sat resting amoment, with her head still full of the glories of the Kirmess.Suddenly Mademoiselle came to her, and in a few kind words gave herthe first of the pleasant surprises by offering her a larger salary,an older class, and many commendations for her skill andfaithfulness. Of course she gratefully accepted the welcome offer,and hurried home to tell Laura, forgetting her heavy heart, tiredfeet, and disappointed hopes.
At her own door the second surprise stood waiting for her, in theperson of Mrs. Fletcher's servant with a large box and a note fromMiss Fanny. How she ever got herself and her parcel up the longstairs Jessie never knew, she was in such a frantic hurry to seewhat that vast box could contain. She startled her sister bybursting into the room breathless, flushed, and beaming, with themysterious cry of,--
"Scissors! quick, the scissors!"
Off went cords and papers, up flew the cover, and with a shriek ofrapture Jessie saw the well-known Hungarian costume lying therebefore her. What it all meant she could not guess, till she toreopen the note and read these delightful words:--
DEAR JESS,--My cold is worse, and the doctor won't let me goto-night. Isn't it dreadful? Our dance will be ruined unless youwill take my place. I know you will to oblige us, and have a lovelytime. Every one will be glad, you do it so much better than I can.My dress will fit you, with tucks and reefs here and there; and theboots won't be much too large, for though I'm fat I have small feet,thank goodness! Mamma will call for you at seven, and bring yousafely home; and you must come early to-morrow and tell me all aboutit.
In the small box you will find a little token of our gratitude toyou for your kindness in helping us all so much. Yours ever,
As soon as Jessie could get her breath and recover from this firstdelightful shock, she opened the dainty parcel carefully tied upwith pink ribbons. It proved to be a crystal slipper, apparentlyfull of rosebuds; but under the flowers lay five-and-twenty shininggold dollars. A little card with these words was tucked in onecorner, as if, with all their devices to make the offering asdelicate and pretty as possible, the givers feared to offend:--
"We return to our dear Princess the glass slipper which she lost atthe ball, full of thanks and good wishes."
If the kind young persons who sent the fanciful gift could have seenhow it was received, their doubts would soon have been set at rest;for Jessie laughed and cried as she told the story, counted theprecious coins, and filled the pretty shoe with water that the budsmight keep fresh for Laura. Then, while the needles flew and the gaygarments were fitted, the happy voices talked and the sistersrejoiced together over this unexpected pleasure as only loving girlscould do.
"The sweetest part of all the splendid surprise is that theyremembered me just at the busiest time, and thanked me in such alovely way. I shall keep that glass slipper all my life, if I can,to remind me not to despair; for just when everything seemeddarkest, all this good luck came," said Jessie, with ecstatic skipsas she clanked the brass heels of her boots and thought of the proudmoment when she would join in the tzardas before all Boston.
Gentle Laura rejoiced and sympathized heartily, sewed like a busybee, and sent her happy sister away at seven o'clock with hersweetest smile, never letting her suspect what tender hopes andfears were hidden in her own heart, what longing and disappointmentmade her days doubly sad and lonely, or how very poor a consolationall the glories of the Kirmess would be for the loss of a friend whohad grown very near and dear to her.
No need to tell the raptures of that evening to little Jessie, whoenjoyed every moment, played her part well, and was brought home atmidnight ready to begin all over again, so inexhaustible is youth'sappetite for pleasure.
To her great surprise, Laura was up and waiting to welcome her, witha face so full of a new and lovely happiness that Jessie guessed atonce some good fortune had come to her also. Yes, Laura'swell-earned reward and beautiful surprise had arrived at last; andshe told it all in a few words as she held out her armsexclaiming,--
"He has come back! He loves me, and I am so happy! Dear littlesister, all your hard times are over now, and you shall have a homeagain."
So the dreams came true, as they sometimes do even in thiswork-a-day world of ours, when the dreamers strive as well as hope,and earn their rewards.
Laura had a restful summer at the seaside, with a stronger arm thanJessie's to lean upon, and more magical medicine to help her back tohealth than any mortal doctor could prescribe. Jessie danced againwith a light heart,--for pleasure, not for pay,--and found the newlife all the sweeter for the trials of the old one. In the autumnthere was a quiet wedding, before three very happy people sailedaway to Italy, the artist's heaven on earth.
"No roses for me," said Jessie, smiling at herself in the mirror asshe fastened a spray of rosy ivy-leaves in the bosom of her freshwhite gown that October morning. "I'll be true to my old friend; forit helped me in my dark days, and now it shall rejoice with me in mybright ones, and go on teaching me to climb bravely and patientlytoward the light."