or, The Little Old Shoe
Louisa May Alcott
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-plot 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 Revolution rolled that
way and found them young.
One summer morning, when the air was full of country sounds,
of mowers in the meadow, blackbirds by the brook, and the low of the 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 pushed 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 literary cormorant, who took it with a nod,
still too intent 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 drawing.
"Let me have plenty of clean collars in my bag, for
I must go at three; 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 reward enough.
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
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 domestic 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
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 the 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
As she spoke, 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 off these young fellows' hats, and preparing them for their
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
"Where's Sally?" asked John, looking vainly
for the energetic 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
"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 dear'; 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 Michel Angelo's, or some great
creature's 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 answer with a nod and a little frown.
"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 variations,--
'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," said Nan.
"You insinuate that I should pick at the pudding
or invade the cream, do you? Ungrateful girl, leave me!" And, with
melodramatic sternness, 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 his heart.
"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
To all of which remarks Nan gave her assent; though 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 bob-o-link only sung in his cheeriest voice, "Go home, go
home! he is there!"
She found John--he having made a freemason 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 limited apron.
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 re-tied his old-fashioned neck-cloth, 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 fro.
"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
probably 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 'Martha.'
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 had 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
"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 work-basket.
"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 the big wheel-barrow, and never split 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 though of these things, and John regarded
the battered thimble on his fingertip 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 encounter.
"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--and
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
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
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 from
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 despondingly,--
"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 which 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 green 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
"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, plunging 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 Rachel."
"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 her life.
John rose involuntarily in the presence of an innocent
nature whose sorrow needed no interpreter to him. The girls 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 deferred.
"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 rather 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 ruddy breast.
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 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 grateful 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
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
"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 not fail.
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 eye 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 sudden alarm.
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-loft 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 fairer than
"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, and she 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 May-flowers
budded in her maiden heart, rosily they bloomed, and silently they waited
till some lover of such lovely 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 blue-stockings and innamoratas
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 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 blunder."
The lovers listened, owned the truth of the old man's
words, bewailed their fate, and--yielded,--Laura for love 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 through
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 attracted 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 patient then."
"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
"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
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 arrangement.
"Go, my dear, by all 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 rigidity 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 the 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 play-actin', 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 a'n'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
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 with speed.
John was not one of those romantic heroes who can go through three volumes
of hairbreadth escapes without the faintest hint of that blessed institution,
dinner; therefore, like "Lady Leatherbridge," 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 arts.
Then he opened his budget of news and fed them.
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, Phil 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 happy
as those words made Phil to-night."
John paused, and looked musingly at the matronly tea-pot,
as if he saw a wondrous future in its shine.
Nan twinkled off the drops that rose at the thought of
Laura's joy, and said, with grateful warmth,--
"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 letter 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 for this!"
Mrs. Lord beamed a whole midsummer of delight upon her
son, as she saw the pleasure these words gave him, though he answered
"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, mounted guard.
"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 her sake."
"Where is father, Sally?" asked Nan, as that
functionary appeared, blinking owlishly, but utterly repudiating the idea
"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
"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
The old man sat in the shadow of the tree his own hands
planted; its fruitful 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 him."
As she spoke, Nan lifted up the head bend down upon his
breast, and kissed his pallid cheek.
"Oh, John, this is not sleep!"
"Yes, dear, the happiest he will ever know."
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
"He kissed me when I went, and said a last 'good
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 reechoed through the house, and Nan sprang
up as if her time for grief were past.
"I must tell them. Oh, my poor girls, how will they
bear it?--they have known so little sorrow!"
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 the two wild-eyed creatures
came into the hush of that familiar room, for the first time meeting with
no welcome from their father's voice.
With one impulse, Di and Laura fled to Nan, and the sisters
clung together in a silent embrace, far 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 known.
"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
"She shall find something more than a child to love;
and, God willing, shall be very happy till the girls come home and--cannot
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 the promise of a harvest for their
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 her.
But the weariness was of many months' growth, and it was
weeks before that "tomorrow" came.
Laura installed herself as a 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 Philips' 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 thought 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 handmaids, 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 sward.
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 all 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
before, 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 "Co."
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
"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 no 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, warmly,--
"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
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 finely 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
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 dear old souls like you and Nan; and some one, I know, will like
and buy them, though they are not 'works of Shakspeare.' 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 made 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 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
"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 he 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 though 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 worn-out shoe,--
"I can supply the slipper;--who will try it first?"
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 bang.
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
"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 come.
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
my 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 though of the
willing feet that came and went for others' comfort all day long; when
I saw the little bow you tied, I always though to 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
of 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 more!"
Alcott, Louisa May. Atlantic Monthly. October