Part 1 out of 3
This edition produced by Jo Hogan.
A Modern Cinderella
or The Little Old Shoe
And Other Stories
by LOUISA MAY ALCOTT
A MODERN CINDERELLA: OR, THE LITTLE OLD SHOE
A MODERN CINDERELLA
THE LITTLE OLD SHOE
HOW IT WAS LOST
Among green New England hills stood an
ancient house, many-gabled, mossy-roofed, and
quaintly built, but picturesque and pleasant to the
eye; for a brook ran babbling through the orchard
that encompassed it about, a garden-plat stretched
upward to the whispering birches on the slope, and
patriarchal elms stood sentinel upon the lawn, as
they had stood almost a century ago, when the
Revoiution rolled that way and found them young.
One summer morning, when the air was full of
country sounds, of mowers in the meadow, black-
birds by the brook, and the low of kine upon the
hill-side, the old house wore its cheeriest aspect,
and a certain humble history began.
And a head, brown-locked, blue-eyed, soft-
featured, looked in at the open door in answer
to the call.
Just bring me the third volume of 'Wilhelm
Meister,' there's a dear. It's hardly worth while
to rouse such a restless ghost as I, when I'm
once fairly laid."
As she spoke, Di PUlled up her black braids,
thumped the pillow of the couch where she was
lying, and with eager eyes went down the last
page of her book.
"Yes, Laura," replied the girl, coming back
with the third volume for the literay cormorant,
who took it with a nod, still too content upon
the "Confessions of a Fair Saint" to remember
the failings of a certain plain sinner.
"Don't forget the Italian cream for dinner. I
depend upon it; for it's the only thing fit for me
this hot weather."
And Laura, the cool blonde, disposed the folds
of her white gown more gracefully about her, and
touched up the eyebrow of the Minerva she was
"Let me have plenty of clean collars in my
bag, for I must go at once; and some of you bring
me a glass of cider in about an hour;--I shall be
in the lower garden."
The old man went away into his imaginary
paradise, and Nan into that domestic purgatory
on a summer day, -- the kitchen. There were
vines about the windows, sunshine on the floor,
and order everywhere; but it was haunted by a
cooking-stove, that family altar whence such varied
incense rises to appease the appetite of household
gods, before which such dire incantations are
pronounced to ease the wrath and woe of the priestess
of the fire, and about which often linger saddest
memories of wasted temper, time, and toil.
Nan was tired, having risen with the birds,--
hurried, having many cares those happy little
housewives never know,--and disappointed in a
hope that hourly " dwindled, peaked, and pined."
She was too young to make the anxious lines upon
her forehead seem at home there, too patient to
be burdened with the labor others should have
shared, too light of heart to be pent up when
earth and sky were keeping a blithe holiday. But
she was one of that meek sisterhood who, thinking
humbly of themselves, believe they are honored
by being spent in the service of less conscientious
souls, whose careless thanks seem quite
To and fro she went, silent and diligent, giving
the grace of willingness to every humble or distasteful
task the day had brought her; but some
malignant sprite seemed to have taken possession
of her kingdom, for rebellion broke out everywhere.
The kettles would boil over most obstreperously,--
the mutton refused to cook with the
meek alacrity to be expected from the nature of
a sheep,--the stove, with unnecessary warmth of
temper, would glow like a fiery furnace,--the
irons would scorch,--the linens would dry,--and
spirits would fail, though patience never.
Nan tugged on, growing hotter and wearier,
more hurried and more hopeless, till at last the
crisis came; for in one fell moment she tore her
gown, burnt her hand, and smutched the collar she
was preparing to finish in the most unexceptionable
style. Then, if she had been a nervous
woman, she would have scolded; being a gentle
girl, she only "lifted up her voice and wept."
"Behold, she watereth her linen with salt tears,
and bewaileth herself because of much tribulation.
But, lo! Help cometh from afar: a strong man
bringeth lettuce wherewith to stay her, plucketh
berries to comfort her withal, and clasheth cymbals
that she may dance for joy."
The voice came from the porch, and, with her
hope fulfilled, Nan looked up to greet John Lord,
the house-friend, who stood there with a basket
on his arm; and as she saw his honest eyes, kind
lips, and helpful hands, the girl thought this plain
young man the comeliest, most welcome sight she
had beheld that day.
"How good of you, to come through all this
heat, and not to laugh at my despair!" she said,
looking up like a grateful child, as she led him in.
"I only obeyed orders, Nan; for a certain dear
old lady had a motherly presentiment that you had
got into a deomestic whirlpool, and sent me as a
sort of life-preserver. So I took the basket of
consolation, and came to fold my feet upon the carpet
of contentment in the tent of friendship."
As he spoke, John gave his own gift in his
mother's name, and bestowed himself in the wide
window-seat, where morning-glories nodded at him,
and the old butternut sent pleasant shadows
dancing to and fro.
His advent, like that of Orpheus in hades,
seemed to soothe all unpropitious powers with a
sudden spell. The Fire began to slacken. the
kettles began to lull, the meat began to
cook, the irons began to cool, the clothes began to
behave, the spirits began to rise, and the collar was
finished off with most triumphant success. John
watched the change, and, though a lord of creation,
abased himself to take compassion on the
weaker vessel, and was seized with a great desire
to lighten the homely tasks that tried her strength
of body and soul. He took a comprehensive
glance about the room; then, extracting a dish
from he closet, proceeded to imbrue his hands in
the strawberries' blood.
"Oh, John, you needn't do that; I shall have
time when I've turned the meat, made the pudding
and done these things. See, I'm getting on
finely now:--you're a judge of such matters;
isn't that nice?"
As she spole, Nan offered the polished absurdity
for inspection with innocent pride.
"Oh that I were a collar, to sit upon that
hand!" sighed John,--adding, argumentatively,
"As to the berry question, I might answer it with
a gem from Dr. Watts, relative to 'Satan' and
idle hands,' but will merely say, that, as a matter
of public safety, you'd better leave me alone; for
such is the destructiveness of my nature, that I shall
certainly eat something hurtful, break something
valuable, or sit upon something crushable, unless
you let me concentrate my energies by knocking
on these young fellows' hats, and preparing them
for their doom."
Looking at the matter in a charitable light,
Nan consented, and went cheerfully on with her
work, wondering how she could have thought
ironing an infliction, and been so ungrateful for
the blessings of her lot.
"Where's Sally?" asked John, looking vainly
for the functionary who usually pervaded
that region like a domestic police-woman, a terror
to cats, dogs, and men.
"She has gone to her cousin's funeral, and
won't be back till Monday. There seems to be
a great fatality among her relations; for one dies,
or comes to grief in some way, about once a month.
But I don't blame poor Sally for wanting to get
away from this place now and then. I think I
could find it in my heart to murder an imaginary
friend or two, if I had to stay here long."
And Nan laughed so blithely, it was a pleasure
to hear her.
"Where's Di?" asked John, seized with a
most unmasculine curiosity all at once.
"She is in Germany with 'Wilhelm Meister';
but, though 'lost to sight, to memory clear'; for
I was just thinking, as I did her things, how
clever she is to like all kinds of books that I don't
understand at all, and to write things that make
me cry with pride and delight. Yes, she's a
talented dear, though she hardly knows a needle
from a crowbar, and will make herself one great
blot some of these days, when the 'divine afflatus'
descends upon her, I'm afraid."
And Nan rubbed away with sisterly zeal at
Di's forlorn hose and inky pocket-handkerchiefs.
"Where is Laura?" proceeded the inquisitor.
"Well, I might say that she was in Italy; for
she is copying some fine thing of Raphael's or
Michael Angelo's, or some great creatures or
other; and she looks so picturesque in her pretty
gown, sitting before her easel, that it's really a
sight to behold, and I've peeped two or three
times to see how she gets on."
And Nan bestirred herself to prepare the dish
Wherewith her picturesque sister desired to
prolong her artistic existence.
"Where is your father?" John asked again,
checking off each answewr with a nod and a little
"He is down in the garden, deep in some plan
about melons, the beginning of which seems to
consist in stamping the first proposition in Euclid
all over the bed, and then poking a few seeds
into the middle of each. Why, bless the dear
man! I forgot it was time for the cider. Wouldn't
you like to take it to him, John? He'd love to
consult you; and the lane is so cool, it does one's
heart good to look at it."
John glanced from the steamy kitchen to the
shadowy path, and answered with a sudden assumption
of immense industry,--
"I couldn't possibly go, Nan,--I've so much
on my hands. You'll have to do it yourself. 'Mr.
Robert of Lincoln' has something for your private
ear; and the lane is so cool, it will do one's heart
good to see you in it. Give my regards to your
father, and, in the words of 'Little Mabel's'
mother, with slight variation,--
'Tell the dear old body
This day I cannot run,
For the pots are boiling over
And the mutton isn't done.'"
"I will; but please, John, go in to the girls and
be comfortable; for I don't like to leave you here,"
"You insinuate that I should pick at the pudding
or invade the cream, do you? Ungrateful
girl, leave me!" And, with melodramatic sterness,
John extinguished her in his broad-brimmed
hat, and offered the glass like a poisoned goblet.
Nan took it, and went smiling away. But the
lane might have been the Desert of Sahara, for
all she knew of it; and she would have passed
her father as unconcernedly as if he had been an
apple-tree, had he not called out,--
"Stand and deliver, little woman!"
She obeyed the venerable highwayman, and
followed him to and fro, listening to his plans and
directions with a mute attention that quite won
"That hop-pole is really an ornament now,
Nan; this sage-bed needs weeding,--that's good
work for you girls; and, now I think of it, you'd
better water the lettuce in the cool of the
evening, after I'm gone."
To all of which remarks Nan gave her assent;
the hop-pole took the likeness of a tall
figure she had seen in the porch, the sage-bed,
curiously enough, suggested a strawberry ditto,
the lettuce vividly reminded her of certain vegetable
productions a basket had brought, and the
bobolink only sung in his cheeriest voice, "Go
home, go home! he is there!"
She found John--he having made a free-mason
of himself, by assuming her little apron--meditating
over the partially spread table, lost in amaze
at its desolate appearance; one half its proper paraphernalia
having been forgotten, and the other
half put on awry. Nan laughed till the tears ran
over her cheeks, and John was gratified at the
efficacy of his treatment; for her face had brought
a whole harvest of sunshine from the garden, and
all her cares seemed to have been lost in the windings
of the lane.
"Nan, are you in hysterics?" cried Di, appearing,
book in hand. "John, you absurd man,
what are you doing?"
"I'm helpin' the maid of all work, please
marm." And John dropped a curtsy with his
Di looked ruffled, for the merry words were a
covert reproach; and with her usual energy of
manner and freedom of speech she tossed "Wilhelm"
out of the window, exclaiming, irefully.--
"That's always the way; I'm never where I
ought to be, and never think of anything till it's
too late; but it's all Goethe's fault. What does
he write books full of smart 'Phillinas' and
interesting 'Meisters' for? How can I be expected
to remember that Sally's away, and people must
eat, when I'm hearing the 'Harper' and little
'Mignon?' John, how dare you come here and
do my work, instead of shaking me and telling
me to do it myself? Take that toasted child away,
and fan her like a Chinese mandarin, while I dish
up this dreadful dinner."
John and Nan fled like chaff before the wind,
while Di, full of remorseful zeal, charged at the
kettles, and wrenched off the potatoes' jackets,
as if she were revengefully pulling her own hair.
Laura had a vague intention of going to assist;
but, getting lost among the lights and shadows of
Minerva's helmet, forgot to appear till dinner had
been evoked from chaos and peace was restored.
At three o'clock, Di performed the coronation
ceremony with her father's best hat; Laura retied
his old-fashioned neckcloth, and arranged his white
locks with an eye to saintly effect; Nan appeared
with a beautifully written sermon, and suspicious
ink-stains on the fingers that slipped it into his
pocket; John attached himself to the bag; and the
patriarch was escorted to the door of his tent with
the triumphal procession which usually attended
his out-goings and in-comings. Having kissed the
female portion of his tribe, he ascended the venerable
chariot, which received him with audible
lamentation, as its rheumatic joints swayed to and
"Good-bye, my dears! I shall be back early
on Monday morning; so take care of yourselves,
and be sure you all go and hear Mr. Emerboy
preach to-morrow. My regards to your mother.
John. Come, Solon!"
But Solon merely cocked one ear, and remained
a fixed fact; for long experience had induced the
philosophic beast to take for his motto the Yankee
maxim, "Be sure you're right, then go ahead!
He knew things were not right; therefore he did
not go ahead.
"Oh, by the way, girls, don't forget to pay
Tommy Mullein for bringing up the cow: he
expects it to-night. And Di, don't sit up till
daylight, nor let Laura stay out in the dew. Now, I
believe I'm off. Come, Solon!"
But Solon only cocked the other ear, gently
agitated his mortified tail, as premonitory
symptoms of departure, and never stirred a hoof,
being well aware that it always took three "comes"
to make a "go."
"Bless me! I've forgotten my spectacles.
They are probablv shut up in that volume of
Herbert on my table. Very awkward to find
myself without them ten miles away. Thank you,
John. Don't neglect to water the lettuce,
Nan, and don't overwork yourself, my little
At this juncture Solon suddenly went off, like
"Mrs. Gamp," in a sort of walking swoon, apparently
deaf and blind to all mundane matters,
except the refreshments awaiting him ten miles
away; and the benign old pastor disappeared,
humming "Hebron" to the creaking accompaniment
of the bulgy chaise.
Laura retired to take her siesta; Nan made a
small carbonaro of herself by sharpening her
sister's crayons, and Di, as a sort of penance for
past sins, tried her patience over a piece of knitting,
in which she soon originated a somewhat remarkable
pattern, by dropping every third stitch, and seaming
ad libitum. If John bad been a gentlemanly creature,
with refined tastes, he would have elevated his feet
and made a nuisance of himself by indulging in a "weed;"
but being only an uncultivated youth, with a rustic
regard for pure air and womankind in general, he kept
his head uppermost, and talked like a man, instead of
smoking like a chimney.
"It will probably be six months before I sit
here again, tangling your threads and maltreating
your needles, Nan. How glad you must feel
to hear it!" he said, looking up from a thoughtful
examination of the hard-working little citizens
of the Industrial Community settled in Nan's
"No, I'm very sorry; for I like to see you
coming and going as you used to, years ago, and I
miss you very much when you are gone, John,"
answered truthful Nan, whittling away in a sadly
wasteful manner, as her thoughts flew back to the
happy times when a little lad rode a little lass in a
big wheelbarrow, and never spilt his load,--when
two brown heads bobbed daily side by side to
school, and the favorite play was "Babes in the
Wood," with Di for a somewhat peckish robin
to cover the small martyrs with any vegetable
substance that lay at hand. Nan sighed, as she
thought of these things, and John regarded the
battered thimble on his finger-tip with increased
benignity of aspect as he heard the sound.
"When are you going to make your fortune,
John, and get out of that disagreeable hardware
concern? " demanded Di, pausing after an
exciting "round," and looking almost as much
exhausted as if it had been a veritable pugilistic
"I intend to make it by plunging still deeper
into 'that disagreeable hardware concern;' for,
next year, if the world keeps rolling, and
John Lord is alive, he will become a partner, and then
The color sprang up into the young man's
cheek, his eyes looked out with a sudden shine,
and his hand seemed involuntarily to close, as if
he saw and seized some invisible delight.
"What will happen then, John?" asked Nan,
with a wondering glance.
"I'll tell you in a year, Nan, wait till then."
and John's strong hand unclosed, as if the
desired good were not to be his yet.
Di looked at him, with a knitting-needle stuck
into her hair, saying, like a sarcastic unicorn,--
"I really thought you had a soul above pots
and kettles, but I see you haven't; and I beg
your pardon for the injustice I have done you."
Not a whit disturbed, John smiled, as if at some
mighty pleasant fancy of his own, as he replied,--
"Thank you, Di; and as a further proof of the
utter depravity of my nature, let me tell you that
I have the greatest possible respect for those articles
of ironmongery. Some of the happiest hours of my
life have been spent in their society; some of my
pleasantest associations are connected with them;
some of my best lessons have come to me among
them; and when my fortune is made, I intend to
show my gratitude by taking three flat-irons
rampant for my coat of arms.
Nan laughed merrily, as she looked at the burns
on her hand; but Di elevated the most prominent
feature of her brown countenance, and sighed
"Dear, dear, what a disappointing world this
is! I no sooner build a nice castle in Spain, and
settle a smart young knight therein, than down it
comes about my ears; and the ungrateful youth,
who might fight dragons, if he chose, insists on
quenching his energies in a saucepan, and making
a Saint Lawrence of himself by wasting his life
on a series of gridirons. Ah, if I were only a man,
I would do something better than that, and prove
that heroes are not all dead yet. But, instead
of that, I'm only a woman, and must sit rasping
my temper with absurdities like this." And Di
wrestled with her knitting as if it were Fate, and
she were paying off the grudge she owed it.
John leaned toward her, saying, with a look
that made his plain face handsome,--
"Di, my father began the world as I begin
it, and left it the richer for the useful years he
spent here,--as I hope I may leave it some half-
century hence. His memory makes that dingy
shop a pleasant place to me; for there he made an
honest name, led an honest life and bequeathed
to me his reverence for honest work. That is a
sort of hardware, Di, that no rust can corrupt, and
which will always prove a better fortune than
any your knights can achieve with sword and
shield. I think I am not quite a clod, or quite
without some aspirations above money-getting; for
I sincerely desire that courage that makes daily
life heroic by self-denial and cheerfulness of heart;
I am eager to conquer my own rebellious nature,
and earn the confidence of innocent and upright
souls; I have a great ambition to become as good a
man and leave as good a memory behind me as
old John Lord."
Di winked violently, and seamed five times in
perfect silence; but quiet Nan had the gift of
knowing when to speak, and by a timely word
saved her sister from a thunder-shower and her
stocking from destruction.
"John, have you seen Philip since you wrote
about your last meeting with him?
The question was for John, but the soothing
tone was for Di, who gratefully accepted it, and
perked up again with speed.
"Yes; and I meant to have told you about it,"
answered John, piunging into the subject at once.
"I saw him a few days before I came home, and
found him more disconsolate than ever,--' just
ready to go to the Devil,' as he forcibly expressed
himself. I consoled the poor lad as well as I could,
telling him his wisest plan was to defer his proposed
expedition, and go on as steadily as he had
begun,--thereby proving the injustice of your
father's prediction concerning his want of perseverance,
and the sincerity of his affection. I told him
the change in Laura's health and spirits was silently
working in his favor, and that a few more months
of persistent endeavor would conquer your father's
prejudice against him, and make him a stronger
man for the trial and the pain. I read him bits
about Laura from your own and Di's letters, and
he went away at last as patient as Jacob ready to
serve another 'seven years' for his beloved
"God bless you for it, John!" cried a fervent
voice; and, looking up, they saw the cold, listless
Laura transformed into a tender girl, all aglow
with love and longing, as she dropped her mask,
and showed a living countenance eloquent with
the first passion and softened by the first grief of
John rose involuntarily in the presence of an
innocent nature whose sorrow needed no interpreter
to him. The girl read sympathy in his
brotherly regard, and found comfort in the friendly
voice that asked, half playfully, half seriously,--
"Shall I tell him that he is not forgotten, even
for an Apollo? that Laura the artist has not
conquered Laura the woman? and predict that the
good daughter will yet prove the happy wife?"
With a gesture full of energy, Laura tore her
Minerva from top to bottom, while two great tears
rolled down the cheeks grown wan with hope
"Tell him I believe all things, hope all things,
and that I never can forget."
Nan went to her and held her fast, leaving the
prints of two loving but grimy hands upon her
shoulders; Di looked on approvingly, for, though
stony-hearted regarding the cause, she fully
appreciated the effect; and John, turning to the
window, received the commendations of a robin
swaying on an elm-bough with sunshine on its
The clock struck five, and John declared that he
must go; for, being an old-fashioned soul, he
fancied that his mother had a better right to his
last hour than any younger woman in the land,--
always remembering that "she was a widow, and
he her only son."
Nan ran away to wash her hands, and came
back with the appearance of one who had washed
her face also: and so she had; but there was a
difference in the water.
"Play I'm your father, girls, and remember
that it will be six months before 'that John' will
trouble you again."
With which preface the young man kissed his
former playfellows as heartily as the boy had been
wont to do, when stern parents banished him to
distant schools, and three little maids bemoaned
his fate. But times were changed now; for Di
grew alarmingly rigid during the ceremony; Laura
received the salute like a graceful queen; and Nan
returned it with heart and eyes and tender lips,
making such an improvement on the childish fashion
of the thing that John was moved to support
his paternal character by softly echoing her father's
words,--"Take care of yourself, my little
Then they all streamed after him along the
garden-path, with the endless messages and warnings
girls are so prone to give; and the young man,
with a great softness at his heart, went away, as
many another John has gone, feeling better for the
companionship of innocent maidenhood, and
stronger to wrestle with temptation, to wait and
hope and work.
"Let's throw a shoe after him for luck, as dear
old 'Mrs. Gummage' did after 'David' and the
'willin' Barkis!' Quick, Nan! you always have
old shoes on; toss one, and shout, 'Good luck!'"
cried Di, with one of her eccentric inspirations.
Nan tore off her shoe, and threw it far along the
dusty road, with a sudden longing to become that
auspicious article of apparel, that the omen might
Looking backward from the hill-top, John answered
the meek shout cheerily, and took in the
group with a lingering glance: Laura in the shadow
of the elms, Di perched on the fence, and Nan
leaning far over the gate with her hand above her
eyes and the sunshine touching her brown hair
with gold. He waved his hat and turned away;
but the music seemed to die out of the blackbird's
song, and in all the summer landscape his eyes saw
nothing but the little figure at the gate.
"Bless and save us! here's a flock of people
coming; my hair is in a toss, and Nan's without
her shoe; run! fly, girls! or the Philistines will be
upon us!" cried Di, tumbling off her perch in
Three agitated young ladies, with flying draperies
and countenances of mingled mirth and dismay,
might have been seen precipitating themselves into
a respectable mansion with unbecoming haste; but
the squirrels were the only witnesses of this "vision
of sudden flight," and, being used to ground-and-lofty
tumbling, didn't mind it.
When the pedestrians passed, the door was
decorously closed, and no one visible but a young
man, who snatched something out of the road,
and marched away again, whistling with more
vigor of tone than accuracy of tune, "Only that,
and nothing more."
HOW IT WAS FOUND.
Summer ripened into autumn, and something
"Sweet-peas and mignonette
In Annie's garden grew."
Her nature was the counterpart of the hill-side
grove, where as a child she had read her fairy
tales, and now as a woman turned the first pages
of a more wondrous legend still. Lifted above
the many-gabled roof, yet not cut off from the
echo of human speech, the little grove seemed a
green sanctuary, fringed about with violets, and
full of summer melody and bloom. Gentle creatures
haunted it, and there was none to make
afraid; wood-pigeons cooed and crickets chirped
their shrill roundelays, anemones and lady-ferns
looked up from the moss that kissed the wanderer's
feet. Warm airs were all afloat, full of vernal
odors for the grateful sense, silvery birches
shimmered like spirits of the wood, larches gave their
green tassels to the wind, and pines made airy
music sweet and solemn, as they stood looking
heavenward through veils of summer sunshine or
shrouds of wintry snow.
Nan never felt alone now in this charmed wood;
for when she came into its precincts, once so full of
solitude, all things seemed to wear one shape,
familiar eyes looked at her from the violets in the
grass, familiar words sounded in the whisper of
the leaves, grew conscious that an unseen
influence filled the air with new delights, and
touched earth and sky with a beauty never seen
before. Slowly these Mayflowers budded in her
maiden heart, rosily they bloomed and silently they
waited till some lover of such lowly herbs should
catch their fresh aroma, should brush away the
fallen leaves, and lift them to the sun.
Though the eldest of the three, she had long
been overtopped by the more aspiring maids. But
though she meekly yielded the reins of government,
whenever they chose to drive, they were soon restored
to her again; for Di fell into literature, and
Laura into love. Thus engrossed, these two forgot
many duties which even bluestockings and inamoratos
are expected to perform, and slowly all the
homely humdrum cares that housewives know
became Nan's daily life, and she accepted it without
a thought of discontent. Noiseless and cheerful
as the sunshine, she went to and fro, doing the
tasks that mothers do, but without a mother's sweet
reward, holding fast the numberless slight threads
that bind a household tenderly together, and
making each day a beautiful success.
Di, being tired of running, riding, climbing, and
boating, decided at last to let her body rest and
put her equally active mind through what classical
collegians term "a course of sprouts." Having
undertaken to read and know everything, she devoted
herself to the task with great energy, going
from Sue to Swedenborg with perfect impartiality,
and having different authors as children have sundry
distempers, being fractious while they lasted,
but all the better for them when once over. Carlyle
appeared like scarlet-fever, and raged violently
for a time; for, being anything but a "passive
bucket," Di became prophetic with Mahomet,
belligerent with Cromwell, and made the French
Revolution a veritable Reign of Terror to her
family. Goethe and Schiller alternated like fever
and ague; Mephistopheles became her hero, Joan
of Arc her model, and she turned her black eyes
red over Egmont and Wallenstein. A mild attack of
Emerson followed, during which she was lost in a
fog, and her sisters rejoiced inwardly when she
emerged informing them that
"The Sphinx was drowsy,
Her wings were furled."
Poor Di was floundering slowly to her proper
place; but she splashed up a good deal of foam by
getting out of her depth, and rather exhausted
herself by trying to drink the ocean dry.
Laura, after the "midsummer night's dream "
that often comes to girls of seventeen, woke up to
find that youth and love were no match for age and
common sense. Philip had been flying about the
world like a thistle-down for five-and-twenty years,
generous-hearted. frank, and kind, but with never
an idea of the serious side of life in his handsome
head. Great, therefore, were the wrath and dismay
of the enamored thistle-down, when the father
of his love mildly objected to seeing her begin the
world in a balloon with a very tender but very
inexperienced aeronaut for a guide.
"Laura is too young to 'play house' yet, and
you are too unstable to assume the part of lord
and master, Philip. Go and prove that you have
prudence, patience, energy, and enterprise, and I
will give you my girl,--but not before. I must
seem cruel, that I may be truly kind; believe this,
and let a little pain lead you to great happiness,
or show you where you would have made a bitter
The lovers listened, owned the truth of the old
man's words, bewailed their fate, and yielded,--
Laura for love of her father, Philip for love of her.
He went away to build a firm foundation for his
castle in the air, and Laura retired into an invisible
convent, where she cast off the world, and regarded
her sympathizing sisters throug a grate of superior
knowledge and unsharable grief. Like a devout nun, she
worshipped "St. Philip," and firmly believed in his
miraculous powers. She fancied that her woes set her
apart from common cares, and slowly fell into a dreamy
state, professing no interest in any mundane matter, but
the art that first attacted Philip. Crayons, bread-crusts,
and gray paper became glorified in Laura's eyes; and
her one pleasure was to sit pale and still before
her easel, day after day, filling her portfolios with
the faces he had once admired. Her sisters observed
that every Bacchus, Piping Faun, or Dying
Gladiator bore some likeness to a comely countenance
that heathen god or hero never owned;
and seeing this, they privately rejoiced that she
had found such solace for her grief.
Mrs. Lord's keen eye had read a certain newly
written page in her son's heart,--his first chapter
of that romance, begun in paradise, whose interest
never flags, whose beauty never fades, whose end
can never come till Love lies dead. With
womanly skill she divined the secret, with motherly
discretion she counselled patience, and her son
accepted her advice, feeling that, like many a
healthful herb, its worth lay in its bitterness.
"Love like a man, John, not like a boy, and
learn to know yourself before you take a woman's
happiness into your keeping. You and Nan have
known each other all your lives; yet, till this last
visit, you never thought you loved her more than
any other childish friend. It is too soon to say the
words so often spoken hastily,--so hard to be recalled.
Go back to your work, dear, for another year; think
of Nan in the light of this new hope:
compare her with comelier, gayer girls; and by
absence prove the truth of your belief. Then,
if distance only makes her dearer, if time only
strengthens your affection, and no doubt of your
own worthiness disturbs you, come back and offer
her what any woman should be glad to take,--
my boy's true heart."
John smiled at the motherly pride of her words,
but answered with a wistful look.
"It seems very long to wait, mother. If I could
just ask her for a word of hope, I could be very
"Ah, my dear, better bear one year of impatience
now than a lifetime of regret hereafter. Nan
is happy; why disturb her by a word which will
bring the tender cares and troubles that come soon
enough to such conscientious creatures as herself?
If she loves you, time will prove it; therefore, let
the new affection spring and ripen as your early
friendship has done, and it will be all the stronger
for a summer's growth. Philip was rash, and has
to bear his trial now, and Laura shares it with him.
Be more generous, John; make your trial, bear
your doubts alone, and give Nan the happiness
without the pain. Promise me this, dear,--promise
me to hope and wait."
The young man's eye kindled, and in his heart
there rose a better chivalry, a truer valor, than any
Di's knights had ever known.
"I'll try, mother," was all he said; but she was
satisfied, for John seldom tried in vain.
"Oh, girls, how splendid you are! It does
my heart good to see my handsome sisters in their
best array," cried Nan, one mild October night,
as she put the last touches to certain airy raiment
fashioned by her own skilful hands, and then fell
back to survey the grand effect.
"Di and Laura were preparing to assist at an
event of the season," and Nan, with her own
locks fallen on her shoulders, for want of sundry
combs promoted to her sisters' heads and her dress
in unwonted disorder, for lack of the many pins
extracted in exciting crises of the toilet, hovered
like an affectionate bee about two very full-blown
"Laura looks like a cool Undine, with the ivy-
wreaths in her shining hair; and Di has illuminated
herself to such an extent with those scarlet leaves.
that I don't know what great creature she resembles
most," said Nan, beaming with sisterly admiration.
"Like Juno, Zenobia, and Cleopatra simmered
into one, with a touch of Xantippe by way of
spice. But, to my eye, the finest woman of the
three is the dishevelled young person embracing
the bed-post: for she stays at home herself, and
gives her time and taste to making homely people
fine,--which is a waste of good material, and an
imposition on the public."
As Di spoke, both the fashion-plates looked
affectionately at the gray-gowned figure; but, being
works of art, they were obliged to nip their feelings
in the bud, and reserve their caresses till they
returned to common life.
"Put on your bonnet, and we'll leave you at
Mrs. Lord's on our way. It will do you good,
Nan; and perhaps there may be news from John,"
added Di, as she bore down upon the door like a
man-of-war under full sail.
"Or from Philip," sighed Laura, with a wistful
Whereupon Nan persuaded herself that her
strong inclination to sit down was owing to want
of exercise, and the heaviness of her eyelids a freak
of imagination; so, speedily smoothing her ruffled
plumage, she ran down to tell her father of the new
"Go, my dear, by alll means. I shall be writing;
and you will be lonely if you stay. But I
must see my girls; for I caught glimpses of certain
surprising phantoms flitting by the door."
Nan led the way, and the two pyramids revolved
before him with the rapidity of lay-figures,
much to the good man's edification: for with his
fatherly pleasure there was mingled much mild
wonderment at the amplitude of array.
"Yes, I see my geese are really swans, though
there is such a cloud between us that I feel a long
way off, and hardly know them. But this little
daughter is always available, always my 'cricket
on the hearth.'
As he spoke, her father drew Nan closer, kissed
her tranquil face, and smiled content.
"Well, if ever I see picters, I see 'em now, and
I declare to goodness it's as interestin' as
playactin', every bit. Miss Di with all them boughs
in her head, looks like the Queen of Sheby, when
she went a-visitin' What's-his-name; and if Miss
Laura ain't as sweet as a lally-barster figger, I
should like to know what is."
In her enthusiasm, Sally gambolled about the
girls, flourishing her milk-pan like a modern
Miriam about to sound her timbrel for excess of
Laughing merrily, the two Mont Blancs bestowed
themselves in the family ark, Nan hopped
up beside Patrick, and Solon, roused from his
lawful slumbers, morosely trundled them away.
But, looking backward with a last "Good-
night!" Nan saw her father still standing at the
door with smiling countenance, and the moonlight
falling like a benediction on his silver hair.
"Betsey shall go up the hill with you, my dear,
and here's a basket of eggs for your father. Give
him my love, and be sure you let me know the
next time he is poorly," Mrs. Lord said, when her
guest rose to depart, after an hour of pleasant chat.
But Nan never got the gift; for, to her great
dismay, her hostess dropped the basket with a
crash, and flew across the room to meet a tall
shape pausing in the shadow of the door. There
was no need to ask who the new-comer was; for,
even in his mother's arms, John looked over her
shoulder with an eager nod to Nan, who stood
among the ruins with never a sign of weariness in
her face, nor the memory of a care at her heart.--
for they all went out when John came in.
"Now tell us how and why and when you came.
Take off your coat, my dear! And here are the
old slippers. Why didn't you let us know
you were coming so soon? How have you been?
and what makes you so late to-night? Betsey,
you needn't put on your bonnet. And--oh, my
dear boy, have you been to supper yet?
Mrs. Lord was a quiet soul, and her flood of
questions was purred softly in her son's ear; for,
being a woman, she must talk, and, being a mother,
must pet the one delight of her life, and make a
little festival when the lord of the manor came
home. A whole drove of fatted calves were
metaphorically killed, and a banquet appeared
John was not one of those romantic heroes who
can go through three volumes of hair-breadth
escapes without the faintest hint of that blessed
institution, dinner; therefore, like "Lady Letherbridge,"
he partook, copiously of everything."
while the two women beamed over each mouthful
with an interest that enhanced its flavor, and urged
upon him cold meat and cheese, pickles and pie, as
if dyspepsia and nightmare were among the lost
Then he opened his budget of news and fed
"I was coming next month, according to custom;
but Philip fell upon and so tempted me, that
I was driven to sacrifice myself to the cause of
friendship, and up we came to-night. He would
not let me come here till we had seen your father,
Nan; for the poor lad was pining for Laura, and
hoped his good behavior for the past year would
satisfy his judge and secure his recall. We had a
fine talk with your father; and, upon my life, Philip
seemed to have received the gift of tongues, for he
made a most eloquent plea, which I've stored away
for future use, I assure you. The dear old gentleman
was very kind, told Phil he was satisfied with
the success of his probation, that he should see
Laura when he liked, and, if all went well, should
receive his reward in the spring. It must be a
delightful sensation to know you have made a
fellow-creature as happy as those words made Phil
John paused, and looked musingly at the matronly
tea-pot, as if he saw a wondrous future in
Nan twinkled off the drops that rose at the
thought of Laura's joy, and said, with grateful
"You say nothing of your own share in the
making of that happiness, John; but we know it,
for Philip has told Laura in his letters all that you
have been to him, and I am sure there was other
eloquence beside his own before father granted all
you say he has. Oh, John, I thank you very much
Mrs. Lord beamed a whole midsummer of delight
upon her son, as she saw the pleasure these
words gave him, though he answered simply,--
"I only tried to be a brother to him, Nan; for
he has been most kind to me. Yes, I said my little
say to-night, and gave my testimony in behalf of
the prisoner at the bar; a most merciful judge
pronounced his sentence, and he rushed straight
to Mrs. Leigh's to tell Laura the blissful news.
Just imagine the scene when he appears, and how
Di will open her wicked eyes and enjoy the spectacle
of the dishevelled lover, the bride-elect's tears,
the stir, and the romance of the thing. She'll
cry over it to-night, and caricature it to-morrow.
And John led the laugh at the picture he had
conjured up, to turn the thoughts of Di's dangerous
sister from himself.
At ten Nan retired into the depths of her old
bonnet with a far different face from the one she
brought out of it, and John, resuming his hat,
"Don't stay late, remember, John!" And in
Mrs. Lord's voice there was a warning tone that
her son interpreted aright.
"I'll not forget, mother."
And he kept his word; for though Philip's happiness
floated temptingly before him, and the little
figure at his side had never seemed so dear, he
ignored the bland winds, the tender night, and set
a seal upon his lips, thinking manfully within himself.
"I see many signs of promise in her happy
face; but I will wait and hope a little longer for
"Where is father, Sally?" asked Nan, as that
functionary appeared, blinking owlishly, but utterly
repudiating the idea of sleep.
"He went down the garding, miss, when the
gentlemen cleared, bein' a little flustered by the
goin's on. Shall I fetch him in?" asked Sally, as
irreverently as if her master were a bag of meal.
"No, we will go ourselves." And slowly the
two paced down the leaf-strewn walk.
Fields of yellow grain were waving on the
hill-side, and sere corn blades rustled in the wind,
from the orchard came the scent of ripening fruit,
and all the garden-plots lay ready to yield up their
humble offerings to their master's hand. But in
the silence of the night a greater Reaper had
passed by, gathering in the harvest of a righteous
life, and leaving only tender memories for the
gleaners who had come so late.
The old man sat in the shadow of the tree his
own hands planted; its fruit boughs shone ruddily,
and its leaves still whispered the low lullaby
that hushed him to his rest.
"How fast he sleeps! Poor father! I should
have come before and made it pleasant for
As she spoke, Nan lifted up the head bent down
upon his breast, and kissed his pallid cheek.
"Oh, John, this is not sleep."
"Yes, dear, the happiest he will ever
For a moment the shadows flickered over three
white faces and the silence deepened solemnly.
Then John reverently bore the pale shape in, and
Nan dropped down beside it, saying, with a rain
of grateful tears,--
"He kissed me when I went, and said a last
For an hour steps went to and fro about her,
many voices whispered near her, and skilful hands
touched the beloved clay she held so fast; but one
by one the busy feet passed out, one by one the
voices died away, and human skill proved vain.
Then Mrs. Lord drew the orphan to the shelter of
her arms, soothing her with the mute solace of that
"Nan, Nan! here's Philip! come and see!"
The happy call re-echoed through the house,
and Nan sprang up as if her time for grief were
"I must tell them. Oh, my poor girls, how
will they bear it?--they have known so little
But there was no need for her to speak; other
lips had spared her the hard task. For, as she
stirred to meet them, a sharp cry rent the air, steps
rang upon the stairs, and two wild-eyed creatures
came into the hush of that familiar room, for the
first time meeting with no welcome from their
With one impulse, Di and Laura fled to Nan.
and the sisters clung together in a silent embrace,
more eloquent than words. John took his
mother by the hand, and led her from the room,
closing the door upon the sacredness of grief.
"Yes, we are poorer than we thought; but
when everything is settled, we shall get on very
well. We can let a part of this great house, and
live quietly together until spring; then Laura will
be married, and Di can go on their travels with
them, as Philip wishes her to do. We shall be
cared for; so never fear for us, John."
Nan said this, as her friend parted from her a
week later, after the saddest holiday he had ever
"And what becomes of you, Nan?" he asked,
watching the patient eyes that smiled when
others would have wept.
"I shall stay in the dear old house; for no other
place would seem like home to me. I shall find
some little child to love and care for, and be quite
happy till the girls come back and want me."
John nodded wisely, as he listened, and went
away prophesying within himself,--
"She shall find something more than a child to
love; and, God willing, shall be very happy till
the girls come home and--cannot have her."
Nan's plan was carried into effect. Slowly the
divided waters closed again, and the three fell
back into their old life. But the touch of sorrow
drew them closer; and, though invisible, a beloved
presence still moved among them, a familiar voice
still spoke to them in the silence of their softened
hearts. Thus the soil was made ready, and in the
depth of winter the good seed was sown, was
watered with many tears, and soon sprang up
green with a promise of a harvest for their after
Di and Laura consoled themselves with their
favorite employments, unconscious that Nan was
growing paler, thinner, and more silent, as the
weeks went by, till one day she dropped quietly
before them, and it suddenly became manifest that
she was utterly worn out with many cares and the
secret suffering of a tender heart bereft of the
paternal love which had been its strength and stay.
"I'm only tired, dear girls. Don't be troubled!,
for I shall be up to-morrow," she said cheerily, as
she looked into the anxious faces bending over
But the weariness was of many months' growth,
and it was weeks before that "to-morrow " came.
Laura installed herself as nurse, and her devotion
was repaid four-fold; for, sitting at her sister's
bedside, she learned a finer art than that she had
left. Her eye grew clear to see the beauty of a
self-denying life, and in the depths of Nan's meek
nature she found the strong, sweet virtues that
made her what she was.
Then remembering that these womanly attributes were
a bride's best dowry, Laura gave herself to their
attainment, that she might become to another household
the blessing Nan had been to her own; and turning
from the worship of the goddess Beauty, she gave
her hand to that humbler and more human teacher,
Duty,--learning her lessons with a willing heart,
for Philip's sake.
Di corked her inkstand, locked her bookcase,
and went at housework as if it were a five-barred
gate; of course she missed the leap, but scrambled
bravely through, and appeared much sobered by
the exercise. Sally had departed to sit under a
vine and fig-tree of her own, so Di had undisputed
sway; but if dish-pans and dusters had tongues,
direful would have been the history of that crusade
against frost and fire, indolence and inexperience.
But they were dumb, and Di scorned to complain,
though her struggles were pathetic to behold, and
her sisters went through a series of messes equal to
a course of "Prince Benreddin's" peppery tarts.
Reality turned Romance out of doors; for, unlike
her favorite heroines in satin and tears, or helmet
and shield, Di met her fate in a big checked apron
and dust-cap, wonderful to see; yet she wielded
her broom as stoutly as "Moll Pitcher" shouldered
her gun, and marched to her daily martyrdom in the
kitchen with as heroic a heart as the "Maid of Orleans"
took to her stake.
Mind won the victory over matter in the end,
and Di was better all her days for the tribulations
and the triumphs of that time; for she drowned her
idle fancies in her wash-tub, made burnt-offerings
of selfishness and pride, and learned the worth of
self-denial, as she sang with happy voice among
the pots and kettles of her conquered realm.
Nan thought of John, and in the stillness of her
sleepless nights prayed Heaven to keep him safe,
and make her worthy to receive and strong enough
to bear the blessedness or pain of love.
Snow fell without, and keen winds howled
among the leafless elms, but "herbs of grace"
were blooming beautifully in the sunshine of
sincere endeavor, and this dreariest season proved the
most fruitful of the year; for love taught Laura,
labor chastened Di, and patience fitted Nan for the
blessing of her life.
Nature, that stillest, yet most diligent of housewives,
began at last that "spring cleaning" which
she makes so pleasant that none find the heart to
grumble as they do when other matrons set their
premises a-dust. Her hand-maids, wind and rain
and sun, swept, washed, and garnished busily,
green carpets were unrolled, apple-boughs were
hung with draperies of bloom, and dandelions, pet
nurslings of the year, came out to play upon the
From the South returned that opera troupe
whose manager is never in despair, whose tenor
never sulks, whose prima donna never fails, and
in the orchard bona fide matinees were held, to
which buttercups and clovers crowded in their
prettiest spring hats, and verdant young blades
twinkled their dewy lorgnettes, as they bowed and
made way for the floral belles.
May was bidding June good-morrow, and the
roses were just dreaming that it was almost time to
wake, when John came again into the quiet room
which now seemed the Eden that contained his
Eve. Of course there was a jubilee; but something
seemed to have befallen the whole group, for
never had they appeared in such odd frames of
mind. John was restless, and wore an excited
look, most unlike his usual serenity of aspect.
Nan the cheerful had fallen into a well of
silence and was not to be extracted by any
Hydraulic power, though she smiled like the June sky
over her head. Di's peculiarities were out in full
force, and she looked as if she would go off like a
torpedo at a touch; but through all her moods
there was a half-triumphant, half-remorseful
expression in the glance she fixed on John. And
Laura, once so silent, now sang like a blackbird,
as she flitted to and fro; but her fitful song was
always, "Philip, my king."
John felt that there had come a change upon
the three, and silently divined whose unconscious
influence had wrought the miracle. The embargo
was off his tongue, and he was in a fever to ask
that question which brings a flutter to the stoutest
heart; but though the "man" had come, the
"hour" had not. So, by way of steadying his
nerves, he paced the room, pausing often to take
notes of his companions, and each pause seemed to
increase his wonder and content.
He looked at Nan. She was in her usual place,
the rigid little chair she loved, because it once
was large enough to hold a curly-headed
playmate and herself. The old work-basket was at
her side, and the battered thimble busily at work;
but her lips wore a smile they had never worn be-
fore, the color of the unblown roses touched her
cheek, and her downcast eyes were full of light.
He looked at Di. The inevitable book was on
her knee, but its leaves were uncut; the strong-
minded knob of hair still asserted its supremacy
aloft upon her head, and the triangular jacket still
adorned her shoulders in defiance of all fashions,
past, present, or to come; but the expression of her
brown countenance had grown softer, her tongue
had found a curb, and in her hand lay a card with
"Potts, Kettel & Co." inscribed thereon, which
she regarded with never a scornful word for the
He looked at Laura. She was before her easel
as of old; but the pale nun had given place to a
blooming girl, who sang at her work, which was
no prim Pallas, but a Clytie turning her human
face to meet the sun.
"John, what are you thinking of?"
He stirred as if Di's voice had disturbed his
fancy at some pleasant pastime, but answered with
his usual sincerity,--
"I was thinking of a certain dear old fairy tale
"Oh!" said Di; and her "Oh" was a most
impressive monosyllable. "I see the meaning of
your smile now; and though the application of the
story is not very complimentary to all parties
concerned, it is very just and very true."
She paused a moment, then went on with softened
voice and earnest mien:--
"You think I am a blind and selfish creature.
So I am, but not so blind and selfish as I have
been; for many tears have cleared my eyes, and
much sincere regret has made me humbler than I
was. I have found a better book than any father's
library can give me, and I have read it with
a love and admiration that grew stronger as I
turned the leaves. Henceforth I take it for my
guide and gospel, and, looking back upon the
selfish and neglectful past, can only say, Heaven
bless your dear heart, Nan!"
Laura echoed Di's last words; for, with eyes
as full of tenderness, she looked down upon the
sister she had lately learned to know, saying,
"Yes, 'Heaven bless your dear heart, Nan!'
I never can forget all you have been to me; and
when I am far away with Philip, there will always
be one countenance more beautiful to me
than any pictured face I may discover, there will
be one place more dear to me than Rome. The
face will be yours, Nan, always so patient, always
so serene; and the dearer place will be this home of
ours, which you have made so pleasant to me all
these years by kindnesses as numberless and
noiseless as the drops of dew."
"Dear girls, what have I ever done, that you
should love me so?" cried Nan, with happy
wonderment, as the tall heads, black and golden,
bent to meet the lowly brown one, and her sisters'
mute lips answered her.
Then Laura looked up, saying, playfully,--
"Here are the good and wicked sisters;-where
shall we find the Prince? "
"There!" cried Di, pointing to John; and
then her secret went off like a rocket; for, with her
old impetuosity, she said,--
"I have found you out, John, and am ashamed
to look you in the face, remembering the past.
Girls, you know when father died, John sent us
money, which he said Mr. Owen had long owed
us and had paid at last? It was a kind lie, John,
and a generous thing to do; for we needed it, but
never would have taken it as a gift. I know you
meant that we should never find this out; but
yesterday I met Mr. Owen returning from the
West, and when I thanked him for a piece of justice
we had not expected of him, he gruffly told me
he had never paid the debt, never meant to pay it,
for it was outlawed, and we could not claim a
farthing. John, I have laughed at you, thought
you stupid, treated you unkindly; but I know you
now, and never shall forget the lesson you have
taught me. I am proud as Lucifer, but I ask you
to forgive me, and I seal my real repentance so--
With tragic countenance, Di rushed across the
room, threw both arms about the astonished young
man's neck and dropped an energetic kiss upon his
cheek. There was a momentary silence; for Di
finally illustrated her strong-minded theories by
crying like the weakest of her sex. Laura, with "the
ruling passion strong in death," still tried to draw,
but broke her pet crayon, and endowed her Clytie
with a supplementary orb, owing to the dimness of
her own. And Nan sat with drooping eyes, that
shone upon her work, thinking with tender pride,--
They know him now, and love him for his generous heart."
Di spoke first, rallying to her colors, though a
little daunted by her loss of self-control.
"Don't laugh, John,--I couldn't help it; and
don't think I'm not sincere, for I am,--I am; and
I will prove it by growing good enough to be your
friend. That debt must all be paid, and I shall
do it; for I'll turn my books and pen to some
account, and write stories full of clear old souls like
you and Nan; and some one, I know, will like and
buy them, though they are not 'works of Shakespeare.'
I've thought of this before, have felt I
had the power in me; now I have the motive, and
now I'll do it."
If Di had Proposed to translate the Koran, or
build a new Saint Paul's, there would have been
many chances of success; for, once moved, her
will, like a battering-ram, would knock down the
obstacles her wits could not surmount. John
believed in her most heartily, and showed it, as he
answered, looking into her resolute face,--
"I know you will, and yet make us very proud
of our 'Chaos,' Di. Let the money lie, and when
you have a fortune, I'll claim it with enormous
interest; but, believe me, I feel already doubly
repaid by the esteem so generously confessed, so
cordially bestowed, and can only say, as we used
to years ago,--'Now let's forgive and so forget."
But proud Di would not let him add to her obligation,
even by returning her impetuous salute;
she slipped away, and, shaking off the last drops,
answered with a curious mixture of old freedom
and new respect,--
"No more sentiment, please, John. We know
each other now; and when I find a friend, I never
let him go. We have smoked the pipe of peace;
so let us go back to our wigwams and bury the
feud. Where were we when I lost my head? and
what were we talking about?"
"Cinderella and the Prince."
As she spoke, John's eye kindled, and, turning,
he looked down at Nan, who sat diligently ornamenting
with microscopic stitches a great patch
going on, the wrong side out.
"Yes,--so we were; and now taking pussy for
the godmother, the characters of the story are well
personated,--all but the slipper," said Di, laughing,
as she thought of the many times they had
played it together years ago.
A sudden movement stirred John's frame, a
sudden purpose shone in his countenance, and a
sudden change befell his voice, as he said,
producing from some hiding-place a little
"I can supply the slipper;--who will try it
Di's black eyes opened wide, as they fell on
the familiar object; then her romance-loving nature
saw the whole plot of that drama which needs but
two to act it. A great delight flushed up
into her face, as she promptly took her cue, saying--
" No need for us to try it, Laura; for it wouldn't
fit us, if our feet were as small as Chinese dolls;
our parts are played out; therefore 'Exeunt
wicked sisters to the music of the wedding-bells.'"
And pouncing upon the dismayed artist, she swept
her out and closed the door with a triumphant
John went to Nan, and, dropping on his knee as
reverently as the herald of the fairy tale, he asked,
still smiling, but with lips grown tremulous,--
"Will Cinderella try the little shoe, and--if
it fits--go with the Prince?"
But Nan only covered up her face, weeping
happy tears, while all the weary work strayed
down upon the floor, as if it knew her holiday had
John drew the hidden face still closer, and while
she listened to his eager words, Nan heard the
beating of the strong man's heart, and knew it
spoke the truth.
"Nan, I promised mother to be silent till I was
sure I loved you wholly,--sure that the knowledge
would give no pain when I should tell it, as I am
trying to tell it now. This little shoe has been mv
comforter through this long year, and I have kept
it as other lovers keep their fairer favors. It has
been a talisman more eloquent to me than flower
or ring; for, when I saw how worn it was, I always
thought of the willing feet that came and went for
others' comfort all day long; when I saw the little
bow you tied, I always thought of the hands so
diligent in serving any one who knew a want or
felt a pain; and when I recalled the gentle creature
who had worn it last, I always saw her patient,
tender, and devout,--and tried to grow more
worthy of her, that I might one day dare to ask
if she would walk beside me all my life and be my
'angel in the house.' Will you, dear? Believe
me, you shall never know a weariness or grief I
have the power to shield you from."
Then Nan, as simple in her love as in her life,
laid her arms about his neck, her happy face against
his own, and answered softly,--
"Oh, John, I never can be sad or tired any
On a cheery June day Mrs. Penelope Carroll
and her niece Debby Wilder, were whizzing along
on their way to a certain gay watering-place, both
in the best of humors with each other and all the
world beside. Aunt Pen was concocting sundry
mild romances, and laying harmless plots for the
pursuance of her favorite pastime, match-making;
for she had invited her pretty relative to join her
summer jaunt, ostensibly that the girl might see a
little of fashionable life, but the good lady secretly
proposed to herself to take her to the beach and
get her a rich husband, very much as she would
have proposed to take her to Broadway and get her
a new bonnet: for both articles she considered
necessary, but somewhat difficult for a poor girl
Debby was slowly getting her poise, after the
excitement of a first visit to New York; for ten
days of bustle had introduced the young philosopher
to a new existence, and the working-day
world seemed to have vanished when she made her
last pat of butter in the dairy at home. For an
hour she sat thinking over the good-fortune which
had befallen her, and the comforts of this life which
she had suddenly acquired. Debby was a true
girl, with all a girl's love of ease and pleasure;
it must not be set down against her that she
surveyed her pretty travelling-suit with much
complacency, rejoicing inwardly that she could use
her hands without exposing fractured gloves, that
her bonnet was of the newest mode, needing no
veil to hide a faded ribbon or a last year's shape,
that her dress swept the ground with fashionable
untidiness, and her boots were guiltless of a patch,
--that she was the possessor of a mine of wealth
in two of the eight trunks belonging to her aunt,
that she was travelling like any lady of the land
with man- and maid-servant at her command, and
that she was leaving work and care behind her for
a month or two of novelty and rest.
When these agreeable facts were fully realized,
and Aunt Pen had fallen asleep behind her veil,
Debby took out a book, and indulged in her favorite
luxury, soon forgetting past, present, and future
in the inimitable history of Martin Chuzzlewit.
The sun blazed, the cars rattled, children
cried, ladies nodded, gentlemen longed for the
solace of prohibited cigars, and newspapers were
converted into sun-shades, nightcaps, and fans;
but Debby read on, unconscious of all about her,
even of the pair of eves that watched her from the
Opposite corner of the car. A Gentleman with a
frank, strong-featured face sat therin, and amused
himself by scanning with thoughtful gaze the
countenances of his fellow-travellers. Stout Aunt Pen,
dignified even in her sleep, was a "model of deportment"
to the rising generation; but the student
of human nature found a more attractive subject in
her companion, the girl with an apple-blossom face
and merry brown eyes, who sat smiling into her
book, never heeding that her bonnet was awry,
and the wind taking unwarrantable liberties with
her ribbons and her hair.
Innocent Debby turned her pages, unaware that
her fate sat opposite in the likeness of a serious,
black-bearded gentleman, who watched the smiles
rippling from her lips to her eyes with an interest
that deepened as the minutes passed. If his paper
had been full of anything but "Bronchial
Troches" and "Spalding's Prepared Glue," he
would have found more profitable employment;
but it wasn't, and with the usual readiness of idle
souls he fell into evil ways, and permitted curiosity,
that feminine sin, to enter in and take possession
of his manly mind. A great desire seized him to
discover what book his pretty neighbor;
but a cover hid the name, and he was too
distant to catch it on the fluttering leaves. Presently
a stout Emerald-Islander, with her wardrobe
oozing out of sundry paper parcels, vacated the
seat behind the two ladies; and it was soon quietly
occupied by the individual for whom Satan was
finding such indecorous employment. Peeping
round the little gray bonnet, past a brown braid
and a fresh cheek, the young man's eye fell upon
the words the girl was reading, and forgot to look
away again. Books were the desire of his life;
but an honorable purpose and an indomitable will
kept him steady at his ledgers till he could feel
that he had earned the right to read. Like wine to
many another was an open page to his; he read a
line, and, longing for more, took a hasty sip from
his neighbor's cup, forgetting that it was a
Down the page went the two pairs of eyes,
and the merriment from Debby's seemed to light
up the sombre ones behind her with a sudden shine
that softened the whole face and made it very
winning. No wonder they twinkled, for Elijah
Pogram spoke, and "Mrs. Hominy, the mother
of the modern Gracchi, in the classical blue cap
and the red cotton pocket-handkerchief, came
down the room in a procession of one." A low
laugh startled Debby, though it was smothered
like the babes in the Tower; and, turning, she
beheld the trespasser scarlet with confusion, and
sobered with a tardy sense of his transgression.
Debby was not a starched young lady of the
"prune and prism" school, but a frank, free-
hearted little body, quick to read the sincerity of
others, and to take looks and words at their real
value. Dickens was her idol; and for his sake she
could have forgiven a greater offence than this.
The stranger's contrite countenance and respecttul
apology won her good-will at once; and with
a finer courtesy than any Aunt Pen would have
taught, she smilingly bowed her pardon, and,
taking another book from her basket, opened it,
"Here is the first volume if you like it, Sir. I
can recommend it as an invaluable consolation for
the discomforts of a summer day's journey, and it
is heartily at your service."
As much surprised as gratified, the gentleman
accepted the book, and retired behind it with the
sudden discovery that wrongdoing has its compensation
in the pleasurable sensation of being forgiven.
Stolen delights are well known to be specially
saccharine: and much as this pardoned sinner loved
books, it seemed to him that the interest
of the story flagged, and that the enjoyment of
reading was much enhanced by the proximity of a
gray bonnet and a girlish profile. But Dickens
soon proved more powerful than Debby, and she was
forgotten, till, pausing to turn a leaf, the young
man met her shy glance, as she asked, with the
pleased expression of a child who has shared an
apple with a playmate,--
"Is it good?"
"Oh, very!"--and the man looked as honestly
grateful for the book as the boy would have done
for the apple.
Only five words in the conversation, but Aunt
Pen woke, as if the watchful spirit of propriety had
roused her to pluck her charge from the precipice
on which she stood.
"Dora, I'm astonished at you! Speaking to
strangers in that free manner is a most unladylike
thing. How came you to forget what I have told
you over and over again about a proper reserve?"
The energetic whisper reached the gentleman's
ear, and he expected to be annihilated with a look
when his offence was revealed; but he was spared
that ordeal, for the young voice answered,
"Don't faint, Aunt Pen: I only did as I'd be
done by; for I had two books, and the poor man
looked so hungry for something to read that I
couldn't resist sharing my 'goodies.' He will see
that I'm a countrified little thing in spite of my
fine feathers, and won't be shocked at my want of
rigidity and frigidity; so don't look dismal, and I'll
be prim and proper all the rest of the way,--if I
don't forget it."
"I wonder who he is; may belong to some of our
first families, and in that case it might be worth
while to exert ourselves, you know. Did you
learn his name, Dora? " whispered the elder lady.
Debby shook her head, and murmured, "Hush!"--but
Aunt Pen had heard of matches being made in cars as
well as in heaven; and as an experienced general,
it became her to reconnoitre, when one of the enemy
approached her camp. Slightly altering her position,
she darted an all-comprehensive glance at the invader,
who seemed entirely absorbed, for not an eyelash stirred
during the scrutiny. It lasted but an instant, yet in
that instant he was weighed and found wanting; for
that experienced eye detected that his cravat was
two inches wider than fashion ordained, that his
coat was not of the latest style, that his gloves
were mended, and his handkerchief neither cambric
nor silk. That was enough, and sentence was
passed forthwith,--"Some respectable clerk,
good-looking, but poor, and not at all the thing
for Dora"; and Aunt Pen turned to adjust a
voluminous green veil over her niece's bonnet,
"To shield it from the dust, dear," which process
also shielded the face within from the eye of man.
A curious smile, half mirthful, half melancholy,
passed over their neighbor's lips; but his peace of
mind seemed undisturbed, and he remained buried
in his book Till they reached -----, at dusk. As he
returned it, he offered his services in procuring a
carriage or attending to luggage; but Mrs. Carroll,
with much dignity of aspect, informed him that her
servants would attend to those matters, and, bowing
gravely, he vanished into the night.
As they rolled away to the hotel, Debby was
wild to run down to the beach whence came the
solemn music of the sea, making the twilight
beautiful. But Aunt Pen was too tired to do
anything but sup in her own apartment and go
early to bed; and Debby might as soon have
proposed to walk up the great Pyramid as to make
her first appearance without that sage matron to
mount guard over her; so she resigned herself to
pie and patience, and fell asleep, wishing it were
At five, a. m., a nightcapped head appeared
at one of the myriad windows of the ----- Hotel,
and remained there as if fascinated by the miracle
of sunrise over the sea. Under her simplicity of
character and girlish merriment Debby possessed a
devout spirit and a nature full of the real poetry of
life, two gifts that gave her dawning womanhood
its sweetest charm, and made her what she was.
As she looked out that summer dawn upon the
royal marriage of the ocean and the sun, all petty
hopes and longings faded out of sight, and her
young face grew luminous with thoughts too deep
for words. Her day was happier for that silent
hour, her life richer for the aspirations that uplifted
her like beautiful strong angels, and left a blessing
when they went. The smile of the June sky
touched her lips, the morning red seemed to linger
on her cheek, and in her eye arose a light kindled
by the shimmer of that broad sea of gold; for
Nature rewarded her young votary well, and gave
her beauty, when she offered love. How long she
leaned there Debby did not know; steps from below
roused her from her reverie, and led her back
into the world again. Smiling at herself, She stole
to bed, and lay wrapped in waking dreams as
changeful as the shadows. ancing on her charnber-
The advent of her aunt's maid, Victorine, some
two hours later, was the signal to be "up and
doing"; and she meekly resigned herself into the
hands of that functionary, who appeared to regard
her in the light of an animated pin-cushion, as she
performed the toilet-ceremonies with an absorbed
aspect, which impressed her subject with a sense
of the solemnity of the occasion.
"Now, Mademoiselle, regard yourself, and
pronounce that you are ravishing" Victorine said
at length, folding her hands with a sigh of
satisfaction, as she fell back in an attitude of
Debby robeyed, and inspected herself with great
interest and some astonishment; for there was a
sweeping amplitude of array about the young
lady whom she beheld in the much-befrilled gown
and embroidered skirts, which somewhat alarmed
her as to the navigation of a vessel "with such a
spread of sail," while a curious sensation of being
somebody else pervaded her from the crown of
her head, with its shining coils of hair, to the soles
of the French slippers, whose energies seemed to
have been devoted to the production of marvellous
"Yes, I look very nice, thank you; and yet I
feel like a doll, helpless and fine, and fancy I was
more of a woman in my fresh gingham, with a knot
of clovers in my hair, than I am now. Aunt Pen
was very kind to get me all these pretty things;
but I'm afraid my mother would look horrified to
see me in such a high state of flounce externally
and so little room to breath internally."
"Your mamma would not flatter me, Mademoiselle;
but come now to Madame; she is waiting to behold
you, and I have yet her toilet to make "; and,
with a pitying shrug, Victorine followed Debby
to her aunt's room.
"Charming! really elegant!" cried that lady,
emerging from her towel with a rubicund visage.
"Drop that braid half an inch lower, and pull the
worked end of her handkerchief out of the right-hand
pocket, Vic. There! Now, Dora, don't run about and
get rumpled, but sit quietly down and practice repose
till I am ready."
Debby obeyed, and sat mute, with the air of
a child in its Sunday-best on a week-day, pleased
with the novelty, but somewhat oppressed with the
responsibility of such unaccustomed splendor, and
uttefly unable to connect any ideas of repose with
tight shoes and skirts in a rampant state of starch.
"Well, you see, I bet on Lady Gay against
Cockadoodle, and if you'll believe me -- Hullo!
there's Mrs. Carroll, and deuse take me if she
hasn't got a girl with her! Look, Seguin!"--
and Joe Leavenworth, a "man of the world,"
aged twenty, paused in his account of an exciting
race to make the announcement.
Mr. Seguin, his friend and Mentor, as much his,
senior in worldly wickedness as in years, tore himself
from his breakfast long enough to survey the
new-comers, and then returned to it, saying,
"The old lady is worth cultivating,--gives
good suppers, and thanks you for eating them.
The girl is well got up, but has no style, and
blushes like a milkmaid. Better fight shy of her,
"Do you think so? Well, now I rather fancy
that kind of thing. She's new, you,see, and I get
on with that sort of girl the best, for the old ones
are so deused knowing that a fellow has no chance
of a -- By the Lord Harry, she's eating bread
Young Leavenworth whisked his glass into his
eye, and Mr. Seguin put down his roll to behold
the phenomenon. Poor Debby! her first step had
been a wrong one.
All great minds have their weak points. Aunt
Pen's was her breakfast, and the peace of her
entire day depended upon the success of that meal.
Therefore, being down rather late, the worthy
lady concentrated her energies upon the achievement
of a copious repast, and, trusting to former
lessons, left Debby to her own resources for a few
fatal moments. After the flutter occasioned by
being scooped into her seat by a severe-nosed
waiter, Debby had only courage enough left to
refuse tea and coffee and accept milk. That being
done, she took the first familiar viand that appeared,
and congratulated herself upon being able
to get her usual breakfast. With returning composure,
she looked about her and began to enjoy
the buzz of voices, the clatter of knives and forks,
and the long lines of faces all intent upon the business
of the hour; but her peace was of short duration.
Pausing for a fresh relay of toast, Aunt
Pen glanced toward her niece with the comfortable