A MODERN CINDERELLAOR,THE LITTLE OLD SHOE
HOW IT WAS LOSTAmong green New England hills stood anancient house, many-gabled, mossy-roofed, andquaintly built, but picturesque and pleasant to theeye; for a brook ran babbling through the orchardthat encompassed it about, a garden-plat stretchedupward to the whispering birches on the slope, andpatriarchal elms stood sentinel upon the lawn, asthey had stood almost a century ago, when theRevoiution rolled that way and found them young.
One summer morning, when the air was full ofcountry sounds, of mowers in the meadow, black-birds by the brook, and the low of kine upon thehill-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 answerto the call.
Just bring me the third volume of 'WilhelmMeister,' there's a dear. It's hardly worth whileto rouse such a restless ghost as I, when I'monce fairly laid."
As she spoke, Di PUlled up her black braids,thumped the pillow of the couch where she waslying, and with eager eyes went down the lastpage of her book.
"Yes, Laura," replied the girl, coming backwith the third volume for the literay cormorant,who took it with a nod, still too content uponthe "Confessions of a Fair Saint" to rememberthe failings of a certain plain sinner.
"Don't forget the Italian cream for dinner. Idepend upon it; for it's the only thing fit for methis hot weather."
And Laura, the cool blonde, disposed the foldsof her white gown more gracefully about her, andtouched up the eyebrow of the Minerva she wasdrawing.
"Let me have plenty of clean collars in mybag, for I must go at once; and some of you bringme a glass of cider in about an hour;--I shall bein the lower garden."
The old man went away into his imaginaryparadise, and Nan into that domestic purgatoryon a summer day, -- the kitchen. There werevines about the windows, sunshine on the floor,and order everywhere; but it was haunted by acooking-stove, that family altar whence such variedincense rises to appease the appetite of householdgods, before which such dire incantations arepronounced to ease the wrath and woe of the priestessof the fire, and about which often linger saddestmemories of wasted temper, time, and toil.
Nan was tired, having risen with the birds,--hurried, having many cares those happy littlehousewives never know,--and disappointed in ahope that hourly " dwindled, peaked, and pined."She was too young to make the anxious lines uponher forehead seem at home there, too patient tobe burdened with the labor others should haveshared, too light of heart to be pent up whenearth and sky were keeping a blithe holiday. Butshe was one of that meek sisterhood who, thinkinghumbly of themselves, believe they are honoredby being spent in the service of less conscientioussouls, whose careless thanks seem quitereward enough.
To and fro she went, silent and diligent, givingthe grace of willingness to every humble or distastefultask the day had brought her; but somemalignant sprite seemed to have taken possessionof her kingdom, for rebellion broke out everywhere.The kettles would boil over most obstreperously,--the mutton refused to cook with themeek alacrity to be expected from the nature ofa sheep,--the stove, with unnecessary warmth oftemper, would glow like a fiery furnace,--theirons would scorch,--the linens would dry,--andspirits would fail, though patience never.
Nan tugged on, growing hotter and wearier,more hurried and more hopeless, till at last thecrisis came; for in one fell moment she tore hergown, burnt her hand, and smutched the collar shewas preparing to finish in the most unexceptionablestyle. Then, if she had been a nervouswoman, she would have scolded; being a gentlegirl, 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 manbringeth lettuce wherewith to stay her, pluckethberries to comfort her withal, and clasheth cymbalsthat she may dance for joy."
The voice came from the porch, and, with herhope fulfilled, Nan looked up to greet John Lord,the house-friend, who stood there with a basketon his arm; and as she saw his honest eyes, kindlips, and helpful hands, the girl thought this plainyoung man the comeliest, most welcome sight shehad beheld that day.
"How good of you, to come through all thisheat, 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 dearold lady had a motherly presentiment that you hadgot into a deomestic whirlpool, and sent me as asort of life-preserver. So I took the basket ofconsolation, and came to fold my feet upon the carpetof contentment in the tent of friendship."
As he spoke, John gave his own gift in hismother's name, and bestowed himself in the widewindow-seat, where morning-glories nodded at him,and the old butternut sent pleasant shadowsdancing to and fro.
His advent, like that of Orpheus in hades,seemed to soothe all unpropitious powers with asudden spell. The Fire began to slacken. thekettles began to lull, the meat began tocook, the irons began to cool, the clothes began tobehave, the spirits began to rise, and the collar wasfinished off with most triumphant success. Johnwatched the change, and, though a lord of creation,abased himself to take compassion on theweaker vessel, and was seized with a great desireto lighten the homely tasks that tried her strengthof body and soul. He took a comprehensiveglance about the room; then, extracting a dishfrom he closet, proceeded to imbrue his hands inthe strawberries' blood.
"Oh, John, you needn't do that; I shall havetime when I've turned the meat, made the puddingand done these things. See, I'm getting onfinely now:--you're a judge of such matters;isn't that nice?"
As she spole, Nan offered the polished absurdityfor inspection with innocent pride.
"Oh that I were a collar, to sit upon thathand!" sighed John,--adding, argumentatively,
"As to the berry question, I might answer it witha gem from Dr. Watts, relative to 'Satan' andidle hands,' but will merely say, that, as a matterof public safety, you'd better leave me alone; forsuch is the destructiveness of my nature, that I shallcertainly eat something hurtful, break somethingvaluable, or sit upon something crushable, unlessyou let me concentrate my energies by knockingon these young fellows' hats, and preparing themfor their doom."
Looking at the matter in a charitable light,Nan consented, and went cheerfully on with herwork, wondering how she could have thoughtironing an infliction, and been so ungrateful forthe blessings of her lot.
"Where's Sally?" asked John, looking vainlyfor the functionary who usually pervadedthat region like a domestic police-woman, a terrorto cats, dogs, and men.
"She has gone to her cousin's funeral, andwon't be back till Monday. There seems to bea 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 getaway from this place now and then. I think Icould find it in my heart to murder an imaginaryfriend or two, if I had to stay here long."
And Nan laughed so blithely, it was a pleasureto hear her.
"Where's Di?" asked John, seized with amost unmasculine curiosity all at once.
"She is in Germany with 'Wilhelm Meister';but, though 'lost to sight, to memory clear'; forI was just thinking, as I did her things, howclever she is to like all kinds of books that I don'tunderstand at all, and to write things that makeme cry with pride and delight. Yes, she's atalented dear, though she hardly knows a needlefrom a crowbar, and will make herself one greatblot some of these days, when the 'divine afflatus'descends upon her, I'm afraid."
And Nan rubbed away with sisterly zeal atDi's forlorn hose and inky pocket-handkerchiefs.
"Where is Laura?" proceeded the inquisitor.
"Well, I might say that she was in Italy; forshe is copying some fine thing of Raphael's orMichael Angelo's, or some great creatures orother; and she looks so picturesque in her prettygown, sitting before her easel, that it's really asight to behold, and I've peeped two or threetimes to see how she gets on."
And Nan bestirred herself to prepare the dishWherewith her picturesque sister desired toprolong her artistic existence.
"Where is your father?" John asked again,checking off each answewr with a nod and a littlefrown.
"He is down in the garden, deep in some planabout melons, the beginning of which seems toconsist in stamping the first proposition in Euclidall over the bed, and then poking a few seedsinto the middle of each. Why, bless the dearman! I forgot it was time for the cider. Wouldn'tyou like to take it to him, John? He'd love toconsult you; and the lane is so cool, it does one'sheart good to look at it."
John glanced from the steamy kitchen to theshadowy path, and answered with a sudden assumptionof immense industry,--
"I couldn't possibly go, Nan,--I've so muchon my hands. You'll have to do it yourself. 'Mr.Robert of Lincoln' has something for your privateear; and the lane is so cool, it will do one's heartgood to see you in it. Give my regards to yourfather, and, in the words of 'Little Mabel's'mother, with slight variation,--
'Tell the dear old bodyThis day I cannot run,For the pots are boiling overAnd the mutton isn't done.'"
"I will; but please, John, go in to the girls andbe comfortable; for I don't like to leave you here,"said Nan.
"You insinuate that I should pick at the puddingor invade the cream, do you? Ungratefulgirl, leave me!" And, with melodramatic sterness,John extinguished her in his broad-brimmedhat, and offered the glass like a poisoned goblet.
Nan took it, and went smiling away. But thelane might have been the Desert of Sahara, forall she knew of it; and she would have passedher father as unconcernedly as if he had been anapple-tree, had he not called out,--
"Stand and deliver, little woman!"
She obeyed the venerable highwayman, andfollowed him to and fro, listening to his plans anddirections with a mute attention that quite wonhis heart.
"That hop-pole is really an ornament now,Nan; this sage-bed needs weeding,--that's goodwork for you girls; and, now I think of it, you'dbetter water the lettuce in the cool of theevening, after I'm gone."
To all of which remarks Nan gave her assent;the hop-pole took the likeness of a tallfigure she had seen in the porch, the sage-bed,curiously enough, suggested a strawberry ditto,the lettuce vividly reminded her of certain vegetableproductions a basket had brought, and thebobolink only sung in his cheeriest voice, "Gohome, go home! he is there!"
She found John--he having made a free-masonof himself, by assuming her little apron--meditatingover the partially spread table, lost in amazeat its desolate appearance; one half its proper paraphernaliahaving been forgotten, and the otherhalf put on awry. Nan laughed till the tears ranover her cheeks, and John was gratified at theefficacy of his treatment; for her face had broughta whole harvest of sunshine from the garden, andall her cares seemed to have been lost in the windingsof 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, pleasemarm." And John dropped a curtsy with hislimited apron.
Di looked ruffled, for the merry words were acovert reproach; and with her usual energy ofmanner and freedom of speech she tossed "Wilhelm"out of the window, exclaiming, irefully.--
"That's always the way; I'm never where Iought to be, and never think of anything till it'stoo late; but it's all Goethe's fault. What doeshe write books full of smart 'Phillinas' andinteresting 'Meisters' for? How can I be expectedto remember that Sally's away, and people musteat, when I'm hearing the 'Harper' and little'Mignon?' John, how dare you come here anddo my work, instead of shaking me and tellingme to do it myself? Take that toasted child away,and fan her like a Chinese mandarin, while I dishup this dreadful dinner."
John and Nan fled like chaff before the wind,while Di, full of remorseful zeal, charged at thekettles, 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 ofMinerva's helmet, forgot to appear till dinner hadbeen evoked from chaos and peace was restored.
At three o'clock, Di performed the coronationceremony with her father's best hat; Laura retiedhis old-fashioned neckcloth, and arranged his whitelocks with an eye to saintly effect; Nan appearedwith a beautifully written sermon, and suspiciousink-stains on the fingers that slipped it into hispocket; John attached himself to the bag; and thepatriarch was escorted to the door of his tent withthe triumphal procession which usually attendedhis out-goings and in-comings. Having kissed thefemale portion of his tribe, he ascended the venerablechariot, which received him with audiblelamentation, as its rheumatic joints swayed to andfro.
"Good-bye, my dears! I shall be back earlyon Monday morning; so take care of yourselves,and be sure you all go and hear Mr. Emerboypreach to-morrow. My regards to your mother.John. Come, Solon!"
But Solon merely cocked one ear, and remaineda fixed fact; for long experience had induced thephilosophic beast to take for his motto the Yankeemaxim, "Be sure you're right, then go ahead!He knew things were not right; therefore he didnot go ahead.
"Oh, by the way, girls, don't forget to payTommy Mullein for bringing up the cow: heexpects it to-night. And Di, don't sit up tilldaylight, nor let Laura stay out in the dew. Now, Ibelieve I'm off. Come, Solon!"
But Solon only cocked the other ear, gentlyagitated his mortified tail, as premonitorysymptoms 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 ofHerbert on my table. Very awkward to findmyself without them ten miles away. Thank you,John. Don't neglect to water the lettuce,Nan, and don't overwork yourself, my little'Martha.' Come--"
At this juncture Solon suddenly went off, like"Mrs. Gamp," in a sort of walking swoon, apparentlydeaf and blind to all mundane matters,except the refreshments awaiting him ten milesaway; and the benign old pastor disappeared,humming "Hebron" to the creaking accompanimentof the bulgy chaise.
Laura retired to take her siesta; Nan made asmall carbonaro of herself by sharpening hersister's crayons, and Di, as a sort of penance forpast sins, tried her patience over a piece of knitting,in which she soon originated a somewhat remarkablepattern, by dropping every third stitch, and seamingad libitum. If John bad been a gentlemanly creature,with refined tastes, he would have elevated his feetand made a nuisance of himself by indulging in a "weed;"but being only an uncultivated youth, with a rusticregard for pure air and womankind in general, he kepthis head uppermost, and talked like a man, instead ofsmoking like a chimney.
"It will probably be six months before I sithere again, tangling your threads and maltreatingyour needles, Nan. How glad you must feelto hear it!" he said, looking up from a thoughtfulexamination of the hard-working little citizensof the Industrial Community settled in Nan'swork-basket.
"No, I'm very sorry; for I like to see youcoming and going as you used to, years ago, and Imiss you very much when you are gone, John,"answered truthful Nan, whittling away in a sadlywasteful manner, as her thoughts flew back to thehappy times when a little lad rode a little lass in abig wheelbarrow, and never spilt his load,--whentwo brown heads bobbed daily side by side toschool, and the favorite play was "Babes in theWood," with Di for a somewhat peckish robinto cover the small martyrs with any vegetablesubstance that lay at hand. Nan sighed, as shethought of these things, and John regarded thebattered thimble on his finger-tip with increasedbenignity of aspect as he heard the sound.
"When are you going to make your fortune,John, and get out of that disagreeable hardwareconcern? " demanded Di, pausing after anexciting "round," and looking almost as muchexhausted as if it had been a veritable pugilisticencounter.
"I intend to make it by plunging still deeperinto 'that disagreeable hardware concern;' for,next year, if the world keeps rolling, andJohn Lord is alive, he will become a partner, and then--and then--"
The color sprang up into the young man'scheek, his eyes looked out with a sudden shine,and his hand seemed involuntarily to close, as ifhe 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 thedesired good were not to be his yet.
Di looked at him, with a knitting-needle stuckinto her hair, saying, like a sarcastic unicorn,--
"I really thought you had a soul above potsand kettles, but I see you haven't; and I begyour pardon for the injustice I have done you."
Not a whit disturbed, John smiled, as if at somemighty pleasant fancy of his own, as he replied,--
"Thank you, Di; and as a further proof of theutter depravity of my nature, let me tell you thatI have the greatest possible respect for those articlesof ironmongery. Some of the happiest hours of mylife have been spent in their society; some of mypleasantest associations are connected with them;some of my best lessons have come to me amongthem; and when my fortune is made, I intend toshow my gratitude by taking three flat-ironsrampant for my coat of arms.
Nan laughed merrily, as she looked at the burnson her hand; but Di elevated the most prominentfeature of her brown countenance, and sigheddespondingly,--
"Dear, dear, what a disappointing world thisis! I no sooner build a nice castle in Spain, andsettle a smart young knight therein, than down itcomes about my ears; and the ungrateful youth,who might fight dragons, if he chose, insists onquenching his energies in a saucepan, and makinga Saint Lawrence of himself by wasting his lifeon a series of gridirons. Ah, if I were only a man,I would do something better than that, and provethat heroes are not all dead yet. But, insteadof that, I'm only a woman, and must sit raspingmy temper with absurdities like this." And Diwrestled with her knitting as if it were Fate, andshe were paying off the grudge she owed it.
John leaned toward her, saying, with a lookthat made his plain face handsome,--
"Di, my father began the world as I beginit, and left it the richer for the useful years hespent here,--as I hope I may leave it some half-century hence. His memory makes that dingyshop a pleasant place to me; for there he made anhonest name, led an honest life and bequeathedto me his reverence for honest work. That is asort of hardware, Di, that no rust can corrupt, andwhich will always prove a better fortune thanany your knights can achieve with sword andshield. I think I am not quite a clod, or quitewithout some aspirations above money-getting; forI sincerely desire that courage that makes dailylife heroic by self-denial and cheerfulness of heart;I am eager to conquer my own rebellious nature,and earn the confidence of innocent and uprightsouls; I have a great ambition to become as good aman and leave as good a memory behind me asold John Lord."
Di winked violently, and seamed five times inperfect silence; but quiet Nan had the gift ofknowing when to speak, and by a timely wordsaved her sister from a thunder-shower and herstocking from destruction.
"John, have you seen Philip since you wroteabout your last meeting with him?
The question was for John, but the soothingtone was for Di, who gratefully accepted it, andperked 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, andfound him more disconsolate than ever,--' justready to go to the Devil,' as he forcibly expressedhimself. I consoled the poor lad as well as I could,telling him his wisest plan was to defer his proposedexpedition, and go on as steadily as he hadbegun,--thereby proving the injustice of yourfather's prediction concerning his want of perseverance,and the sincerity of his affection. I told himthe change in Laura's health and spirits was silentlyworking in his favor, and that a few more monthsof persistent endeavor would conquer your father'sprejudice against him, and make him a strongerman for the trial and the pain. I read him bitsabout Laura from your own and Di's letters, andhe went away at last as patient as Jacob ready toserve another 'seven years' for his belovedRachel."
"God bless you for it, John!" cried a ferventvoice; and, looking up, they saw the cold, listlessLaura transformed into a tender girl, all aglowwith love and longing, as she dropped her mask,and showed a living countenance eloquent withthe first passion and softened by the first grief ofher life.
John rose involuntarily in the presence of aninnocent nature whose sorrow needed no interpreterto him. The girl read sympathy in hisbrotherly regard, and found comfort in the friendlyvoice that asked, half playfully, half seriously,--
"Shall I tell him that he is not forgotten, evenfor an Apollo? that Laura the artist has notconquered Laura the woman? and predict that thegood daughter will yet prove the happy wife?"
With a gesture full of energy, Laura tore herMinerva from top to bottom, while two great tearsrolled down the cheeks grown wan with hopedeferred.
"Tell him I believe all things, hope all things,and that I never can forget."
Nan went to her and held her fast, leaving theprints of two loving but grimy hands upon hershoulders; Di looked on approvingly, for, thoughstony-hearted regarding the cause, she fullyappreciated the effect; and John, turning to thewindow, received the commendations of a robinswaying on an elm-bough with sunshine on itsruddy breast.
The clock struck five, and John declared that hemust go; for, being an old-fashioned soul, hefancied that his mother had a better right to hislast hour than any younger woman in the land,--always remembering that "she was a widow, andhe her only son."
Nan ran away to wash her hands, and cameback with the appearance of one who had washedher face also: and so she had; but there was adifference in the water.
"Play I'm your father, girls, and rememberthat it will be six months before 'that John' willtrouble you again."
With which preface the young man kissed hisformer playfellows as heartily as the boy had beenwont to do, when stern parents banished him todistant schools, and three little maids bemoanedhis fate. But times were changed now; for Digrew alarmingly rigid during the ceremony; Laurareceived the salute like a graceful queen; and Nanreturned it with heart and eyes and tender lips,making such an improvement on the childish fashionof the thing that John was moved to supporthis paternal character by softly echoing her father'swords,--"Take care of yourself, my little'Martha.'"
Then they all streamed after him along thegarden-path, with the endless messages and warningsgirls are so prone to give; and the young man,with a great softness at his heart, went away, asmany another John has gone, feeling better for thecompanionship of innocent maidenhood, andstronger to wrestle with temptation, to wait andhope and work.
"Let's throw a shoe after him for luck, as dearold 'Mrs. Gummage' did after 'David' and the'willin' Barkis!' Quick, Nan! you always haveold 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 thedusty road, with a sudden longing to become thatauspicious article of apparel, that the omen mightnot fail.
Looking backward from the hill-top, John answeredthe meek shout cheerily, and took in thegroup with a lingering glance: Laura in the shadowof the elms, Di perched on the fence, and Nanleaning far over the gate with her hand above hereyes and the sunshine touching her brown hairwith gold. He waved his hat and turned away;but the music seemed to die out of the blackbird'ssong, and in all the summer landscape his eyes sawnothing but the little figure at the gate.
"Bless and save us! here's a flock of peoplecoming; my hair is in a toss, and Nan's withouther shoe; run! fly, girls! or the Philistines will beupon us!" cried Di, tumbling off her perch insudden alarm.
Three agitated young ladies, with flying draperiesand countenances of mingled mirth and dismay,might have been seen precipitating themselves intoa respectable mansion with unbecoming haste; butthe squirrels were the only witnesses of this "visionof sudden flight," and, being used to ground-and-loftytumbling, didn't mind it.
When the pedestrians passed, the door wasdecorously closed, and no one visible but a youngman, who snatched something out of the road,and marched away again, whistling with morevigor of tone than accuracy of tune, "Only that,and nothing more."
HOW IT WAS FOUND.
Summer ripened into autumn, and somethingfairer than
"Sweet-peas and mignonetteIn Annie's garden grew."
Her nature was the counterpart of the hill-sidegrove, where as a child she had read her fairytales, and now as a woman turned the first pagesof a more wondrous legend still. Lifted abovethe many-gabled roof, yet not cut off from theecho of human speech, the little grove seemed agreen sanctuary, fringed about with violets, andfull of summer melody and bloom. Gentle creatureshaunted it, and there was none to makeafraid; wood-pigeons cooed and crickets chirpedtheir shrill roundelays, anemones and lady-fernslooked up from the moss that kissed the wanderer'sfeet. Warm airs were all afloat, full of vernalodors for the grateful sense, silvery birchesshimmered like spirits of the wood, larches gave theirgreen tassels to the wind, and pines made airymusic sweet and solemn, as they stood lookingheavenward through veils of summer sunshine orshrouds of wintry snow.
Nan never felt alone now in this charmed wood;for when she came into its precincts, once so full ofsolitude, all things seemed to wear one shape,familiar eyes looked at her from the violets in thegrass, familiar words sounded in the whisper ofthe leaves, grew conscious that an unseeninfluence filled the air with new delights, andtouched earth and sky with a beauty never seenbefore. Slowly these Mayflowers budded in hermaiden heart, rosily they bloomed and silently theywaited till some lover of such lowly herbs shouldcatch their fresh aroma, should brush away thefallen leaves, and lift them to the sun.
Though the eldest of the three, she had longbeen overtopped by the more aspiring maids. Butthough she meekly yielded the reins of government,whenever they chose to drive, they were soon restoredto her again; for Di fell into literature, andLaura into love. Thus engrossed, these two forgotmany duties which even bluestockings and inamoratosare expected to perform, and slowly all thehomely humdrum cares that housewives knowbecame Nan's daily life, and she accepted it withouta thought of discontent. Noiseless and cheerfulas the sunshine, she went to and fro, doing thetasks that mothers do, but without a mother's sweetreward, holding fast the numberless slight threadsthat bind a household tenderly together, andmaking each day a beautiful success.
Di, being tired of running, riding, climbing, andboating, decided at last to let her body rest andput her equally active mind through what classicalcollegians term "a course of sprouts." Havingundertaken to read and know everything, she devotedherself to the task with great energy, goingfrom Sue to Swedenborg with perfect impartiality,and having different authors as children have sundrydistempers, being fractious while they lasted,but all the better for them when once over. Carlyleappeared like scarlet-fever, and raged violentlyfor a time; for, being anything but a "passivebucket," Di became prophetic with Mahomet,belligerent with Cromwell, and made the FrenchRevolution a veritable Reign of Terror to herfamily. Goethe and Schiller alternated like feverand ague; Mephistopheles became her hero, Joanof Arc her model, and she turned her black eyesred over Egmont and Wallenstein. A mild attack ofEmerson followed, during which she was lost in afog, and her sisters rejoiced inwardly when sheemerged informing them that
"The Sphinx was drowsy,Her wings were furled."
Poor Di was floundering slowly to her properplace; but she splashed up a good deal of foam bygetting out of her depth, and rather exhaustedherself by trying to drink the ocean dry.
Laura, after the "midsummer night's dream "that often comes to girls of seventeen, woke up tofind that youth and love were no match for age andcommon sense. Philip had been flying about theworld like a thistle-down for five-and-twenty years,generous-hearted. frank, and kind, but with neveran idea of the serious side of life in his handsomehead. Great, therefore, were the wrath and dismayof the enamored thistle-down, when the fatherof his love mildly objected to seeing her begin theworld in a balloon with a very tender but veryinexperienced aeronaut for a guide.
"Laura is too young to 'play house' yet, andyou are too unstable to assume the part of lordand master, Philip. Go and prove that you haveprudence, patience, energy, and enterprise, and Iwill give you my girl,--but not before. I mustseem 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 bitterblunder."
The lovers listened, owned the truth of the oldman'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 hiscastle in the air, and Laura retired into an invisibleconvent, where she cast off the world, and regardedher sympathizing sisters throug a grate of superiorknowledge and unsharable grief. Like a devout nun, sheworshipped "St. Philip," and firmly believed in hismiraculous powers. She fancied that her woes set herapart from common cares, and slowly fell into a dreamystate, professing no interest in any mundane matter, butthe art that first attacted Philip. Crayons, bread-crusts,and gray paper became glorified in Laura's eyes; andher one pleasure was to sit pale and still beforeher easel, day after day, filling her portfolios withthe faces he had once admired. Her sisters observedthat every Bacchus, Piping Faun, or DyingGladiator bore some likeness to a comely countenancethat heathen god or hero never owned;and seeing this, they privately rejoiced that shehad found such solace for her grief.
Mrs. Lord's keen eye had read a certain newlywritten page in her son's heart,--his first chapterof that romance, begun in paradise, whose interestnever flags, whose beauty never fades, whose endcan never come till Love lies dead. Withwomanly skill she divined the secret, with motherlydiscretion she counselled patience, and her sonaccepted her advice, feeling that, like many ahealthful herb, its worth lay in its bitterness.
"Love like a man, John, not like a boy, andlearn to know yourself before you take a woman'shappiness into your keeping. You and Nan haveknown each other all your lives; yet, till this lastvisit, you never thought you loved her more thanany other childish friend. It is too soon to say thewords so often spoken hastily,--so hard to be recalled.Go back to your work, dear, for another year; thinkof Nan in the light of this new hope:compare her with comelier, gayer girls; and byabsence prove the truth of your belief. Then,if distance only makes her dearer, if time onlystrengthens your affection, and no doubt of yourown worthiness disturbs you, come back and offerher 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 couldjust ask her for a word of hope, I could be verypatient then."
"Ah, my dear, better bear one year of impatiencenow than a lifetime of regret hereafter. Nanis happy; why disturb her by a word which willbring the tender cares and troubles that come soonenough to such conscientious creatures as herself?If she loves you, time will prove it; therefore, letthe new affection spring and ripen as your earlyfriendship has done, and it will be all the strongerfor a summer's growth. Philip was rash, and hasto bear his trial now, and Laura shares it with him.Be more generous, John; make your trial, bearyour doubts alone, and give Nan the happinesswithout the pain. Promise me this, dear,--promiseme to hope and wait."
The young man's eye kindled, and in his heartthere rose a better chivalry, a truer valor, than anyDi's knights had ever known.
"I'll try, mother," was all he said; but she wassatisfied, for John seldom tried in vain.
"Oh, girls, how splendid you are! It doesmy heart good to see my handsome sisters in theirbest array," cried Nan, one mild October night,as she put the last touches to certain airy raimentfashioned by her own skilful hands, and then fellback to survey the grand effect.
"Di and Laura were preparing to assist at anevent of the season," and Nan, with her ownlocks fallen on her shoulders, for want of sundrycombs promoted to her sisters' heads and her dressin unwonted disorder, for lack of the many pinsextracted in exciting crises of the toilet, hoveredlike an affectionate bee about two very full-blownflowers.
"Laura looks like a cool Undine, with the ivy-wreaths in her shining hair; and Di has illuminatedherself to such an extent with those scarlet leaves.that I don't know what great creature she resemblesmost," said Nan, beaming with sisterly admiration.
"Like Juno, Zenobia, and Cleopatra simmeredinto one, with a touch of Xantippe by way ofspice. But, to my eye, the finest woman of thethree is the dishevelled young person embracingthe bed-post: for she stays at home herself, andgives her time and taste to making homely peoplefine,--which is a waste of good material, and animposition on the public."
As Di spoke, both the fashion-plates lookedaffectionately at the gray-gowned figure; but, beingworks of art, they were obliged to nip their feelingsin the bud, and reserve their caresses till theyreturned to common life.
"Put on your bonnet, and we'll leave you atMrs. 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 aman-of-war under full sail.
"Or from Philip," sighed Laura, with a wistfullook.
Whereupon Nan persuaded herself that herstrong inclination to sit down was owing to wantof exercise, and the heaviness of her eyelids a freakof imagination; so, speedily smoothing her ruffledplumage, she ran down to tell her father of the newarrangement.
"Go, my dear, by alll means. I shall be writing;and you will be lonely if you stay. But Imust see my girls; for I caught glimpses of certainsurprising phantoms flitting by the door."
Nan led the way, and the two pyramids revolvedbefore him with the rapidity of lay-figures,much to the good man's edification: for with hisfatherly pleasure there was mingled much mildwonderment at the amplitude of array.
"Yes, I see my geese are really swans, thoughthere is such a cloud between us that I feel a longway off, and hardly know them. But this littledaughter is always available, always my 'cricketon the hearth.'
As he spoke, her father drew Nan closer, kissedher tranquil face, and smiled content.
"Well, if ever I see picters, I see 'em now, andI declare to goodness it's as interestin' asplayactin', every bit. Miss Di with all them boughsin her head, looks like the Queen of Sheby, whenshe went a-visitin' What's-his-name; and if MissLaura ain't as sweet as a lally-barster figger, Ishould like to know what is."
In her enthusiasm, Sally gambolled about thegirls, flourishing her milk-pan like a modernMiriam about to sound her timbrel for excess ofjoy.
Laughing merrily, the two Mont Blancs bestowedthemselves in the family ark, Nan hoppedup beside Patrick, and Solon, roused from hislawful slumbers, morosely trundled them away.But, looking backward with a last "Good-night!" Nan saw her father still standing at thedoor with smiling countenance, and the moonlightfalling 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. Givehim my love, and be sure you let me know thenext time he is poorly," Mrs. Lord said, when herguest rose to depart, after an hour of pleasant chat.
But Nan never got the gift; for, to her greatdismay, her hostess dropped the basket with acrash, and flew across the room to meet a tallshape pausing in the shadow of the door. Therewas no need to ask who the new-comer was; for,even in his mother's arms, John looked over hershoulder with an eager nod to Nan, who stoodamong the ruins with never a sign of weariness inher 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 theold slippers. Why didn't you let us knowyou 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, mydear boy, have you been to supper yet?
Mrs. Lord was a quiet soul, and her flood ofquestions 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 alittle festival when the lord of the manor camehome. A whole drove of fatted calves weremetaphorically killed, and a banquet appearedwith speed.
John was not one of those romantic heroes whocan go through three volumes of hair-breadthescapes without the faintest hint of that blessedinstitution, dinner; therefore, like "Lady Letherbridge,"he partook, copiously of everything."while the two women beamed over each mouthfulwith an interest that enhanced its flavor, and urgedupon him cold meat and cheese, pickles and pie, asif dyspepsia and nightmare were among the lostarts.
Then he opened his budget of news and fedthem.
"I was coming next month, according to custom;but Philip fell upon and so tempted me, thatI was driven to sacrifice myself to the cause offriendship, and up we came to-night. He wouldnot let me come here till we had seen your father,Nan; for the poor lad was pining for Laura, andhoped his good behavior for the past year wouldsatisfy his judge and secure his recall. We had afine talk with your father; and, upon my life, Philipseemed to have received the gift of tongues, for hemade a most eloquent plea, which I've stored awayfor future use, I assure you. The dear old gentlemanwas very kind, told Phil he was satisfied withthe success of his probation, that he should seeLaura when he liked, and, if all went well, shouldreceive his reward in the spring. It must be adelightful sensation to know you have made afellow-creature as happy as those words made Philto-night."
John paused, and looked musingly at the matronlytea-pot, as if he saw a wondrous future inits shine.
Nan twinkled off the drops that rose at thethought of Laura's joy, and said, with gratefulwarmth,--
"You say nothing of your own share in themaking of that happiness, John; but we know it,for Philip has told Laura in his letters all that youhave been to him, and I am sure there was othereloquence beside his own before father granted allyou say he has. Oh, John, I thank you very muchfor this!
Mrs. Lord beamed a whole midsummer of delightupon her son, as she saw the pleasure thesewords gave him, though he answered simply,--
"I only tried to be a brother to him, Nan; forhe has been most kind to me. Yes, I said my littlesay to-night, and gave my testimony in behalf ofthe prisoner at the bar; a most merciful judgepronounced his sentence, and he rushed straightto Mrs. Leigh's to tell Laura the blissful news.Just imagine the scene when he appears, and howDi will open her wicked eyes and enjoy the spectacleof the dishevelled lover, the bride-elect's tears,the stir, and the romance of the thing. She'llcry over it to-night, and caricature it to-morrow.
And John led the laugh at the picture he hadconjured up, to turn the thoughts of Di's dangeroussister from himself.
At ten Nan retired into the depths of her oldbonnet with a far different face from the one shebrought out of it, and John, resuming his hat,mounted guard.
"Don't stay late, remember, John!" And inMrs. Lord's voice there was a warning tone thather son interpreted aright.
"I'll not forget, mother."
And he kept his word; for though Philip's happinessfloated temptingly before him, and the littlefigure at his side had never seemed so dear, heignored the bland winds, the tender night, and seta seal upon his lips, thinking manfully within himself."I see many signs of promise in her happyface; but I will wait and hope a little longer forher sake."
"Where is father, Sally?" asked Nan, as thatfunctionary appeared, blinking owlishly, but utterlyrepudiating the idea of sleep.
"He went down the garding, miss, when thegentlemen cleared, bein' a little flustered by thegoin's on. Shall I fetch him in?" asked Sally, asirreverently as if her master were a bag of meal.
"No, we will go ourselves." And slowly thetwo paced down the leaf-strewn walk.
Fields of yellow grain were waving on thehill-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 theirhumble offerings to their master's hand. But inthe silence of the night a greater Reaper hadpassed by, gathering in the harvest of a righteouslife, and leaving only tender memories for thegleaners who had come so late.
The old man sat in the shadow of the tree hisown hands planted; its fruit boughs shone ruddily,and its leaves still whispered the low lullabythat hushed him to his rest.
"How fast he sleeps! Poor father! I shouldhave come before and made it pleasant forhim."
As she spoke, Nan lifted up the head bent downupon his breast, and kissed his pallid cheek.
"Oh, John, this is not sleep."
"Yes, dear, the happiest he will everknow."
For a moment the shadows flickered over threewhite faces and the silence deepened solemnly.Then John reverently bore the pale shape in, andNan dropped down beside it, saying, with a rainof grateful tears,--
"He kissed me when I went, and said a lastgood-night!'"
For an hour steps went to and fro about her,many voices whispered near her, and skilful handstouched the beloved clay she held so fast; but oneby one the busy feet passed out, one by one thevoices died away, and human skill proved vain.
Then Mrs. Lord drew the orphan to the shelter ofher arms, soothing her with the mute solace of thatmotherly embrace.
"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 werepast.
"I must tell them. Oh, my poor girls, howwill they bear it?--they have known so littlesorrow!"
But there was no need for her to speak; otherlips had spared her the hard task. For, as shestirred to meet them, a sharp cry rent the air, stepsrang upon the stairs, and two wild-eyed creaturescame into the hush of that familiar room, for thefirst time meeting with no welcome from theirfather's voice.
With one impulse, Di and Laura fled to Nan.and the sisters clung together in a silent embrace,more eloquent than words. John took hismother by the hand, and led her from the room,closing the door upon the sacredness of grief.
"Yes, we are poorer than we thought; butwhen everything is settled, we shall get on verywell. We can let a part of this great house, andlive quietly together until spring; then Laura willbe married, and Di can go on their travels withthem, as Philip wishes her to do. We shall becared for; so never fear for us, John."
Nan said this, as her friend parted from her aweek later, after the saddest holiday he had everknown.
"And what becomes of you, Nan?" he asked,watching the patient eyes that smiled whenothers would have wept.
"I shall stay in the dear old house; for no otherplace would seem like home to me. I shall findsome little child to love and care for, and be quitehappy till the girls come back and want me."
John nodded wisely, as he listened, and wentaway prophesying within himself,--
"She shall find something more than a child tolove; and, God willing, shall be very happy tillthe girls come home and--cannot have her."
Nan's plan was carried into effect. Slowly thedivided waters closed again, and the three fellback into their old life. But the touch of sorrowdrew them closer; and, though invisible, a belovedpresence still moved among them, a familiar voicestill spoke to them in the silence of their softenedhearts. Thus the soil was made ready, and in thedepth of winter the good seed was sown, waswatered with many tears, and soon sprang upgreen with a promise of a harvest for their afteryears.
Di and Laura consoled themselves with theirfavorite employments, unconscious that Nan wasgrowing paler, thinner, and more silent, as theweeks went by, till one day she dropped quietlybefore them, and it suddenly became manifest thatshe was utterly worn out with many cares and thesecret suffering of a tender heart bereft of thepaternal 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, asshe looked into the anxious faces bending overher.
But the weariness was of many months' growth,and it was weeks before that "to-morrow " came.
Laura installed herself as nurse, and her devotionwas repaid four-fold; for, sitting at her sister'sbedside, she learned a finer art than that she hadleft. Her eye grew clear to see the beauty of aself-denying life, and in the depths of Nan's meeknature she found the strong, sweet virtues thatmade her what she was.
Then remembering that these womanly attributes werea bride's best dowry, Laura gave herself to theirattainment, that she might become to another householdthe blessing Nan had been to her own; and turningfrom the worship of the goddess Beauty, she gaveher 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-barredgate; of course she missed the leap, but scrambledbravely through, and appeared much sobered bythe exercise. Sally had departed to sit under avine and fig-tree of her own, so Di had undisputedsway; but if dish-pans and dusters had tongues,direful would have been the history of that crusadeagainst frost and fire, indolence and inexperience.But they were dumb, and Di scorned to complain,though her struggles were pathetic to behold, andher sisters went through a series of messes equal toa course of "Prince Benreddin's" peppery tarts.Reality turned Romance out of doors; for, unlikeher favorite heroines in satin and tears, or helmetand shield, Di met her fate in a big checked apronand dust-cap, wonderful to see; yet she wieldedher broom as stoutly as "Moll Pitcher" shoulderedher gun, and marched to her daily martyrdom in thekitchen 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 tribulationsand the triumphs of that time; for she drowned heridle fancies in her wash-tub, made burnt-offeringsof selfishness and pride, and learned the worth ofself-denial, as she sang with happy voice amongthe pots and kettles of her conquered realm.
Nan thought of John, and in the stillness of hersleepless nights prayed Heaven to keep him safe,and make her worthy to receive and strong enoughto bear the blessedness or pain of love.
Snow fell without, and keen winds howledamong the leafless elms, but "herbs of grace"were blooming beautifully in the sunshine ofsincere endeavor, and this dreariest season proved themost fruitful of the year; for love taught Laura,labor chastened Di, and patience fitted Nan for theblessing of her life.
Nature, that stillest, yet most diligent of housewives,began at last that "spring cleaning" whichshe makes so pleasant that none find the heart togrumble as they do when other matrons set theirpremises a-dust. Her hand-maids, wind and rainand sun, swept, washed, and garnished busily,green carpets were unrolled, apple-boughs werehung with draperies of bloom, and dandelions, petnurslings of the year, came out to play upon thesward.
From the South returned that opera troupewhose manager is never in despair, whose tenornever sulks, whose prima donna never fails, andin the orchard bona fide matinees were held, towhich buttercups and clovers crowded in theirprettiest spring hats, and verdant young bladestwinkled their dewy lorgnettes, as they bowed andmade way for the floral belles.
May was bidding June good-morrow, and theroses were just dreaming that it was almost time towake, when John came again into the quiet roomwhich now seemed the Eden that contained hisEve. Of course there was a jubilee; but somethingseemed to have befallen the whole group, fornever had they appeared in such odd frames ofmind. John was restless, and wore an excitedlook, most unlike his usual serenity of aspect.
Nan the cheerful had fallen into a well ofsilence and was not to be extracted by anyHydraulic power, though she smiled like the June skyover her head. Di's peculiarities were out in fullforce, and she looked as if she would go off like atorpedo at a touch; but through all her moodsthere was a half-triumphant, half-remorsefulexpression in the glance she fixed on John. AndLaura, once so silent, now sang like a blackbird,as she flitted to and fro; but her fitful song wasalways, "Philip, my king."
John felt that there had come a change uponthe three, and silently divined whose unconsciousinfluence had wrought the miracle. The embargowas off his tongue, and he was in a fever to askthat question which brings a flutter to the stoutestheart; but though the "man" had come, the"hour" had not. So, by way of steadying hisnerves, he paced the room, pausing often to takenotes of his companions, and each pause seemed toincrease his wonder and content.
He looked at Nan. She was in her usual place,the rigid little chair she loved, because it oncewas large enough to hold a curly-headedplaymate and herself. The old work-basket was ather 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 hercheek, and her downcast eyes were full of light.
He looked at Di. The inevitable book was onher knee, but its leaves were uncut; the strong-minded knob of hair still asserted its supremacyaloft upon her head, and the triangular jacket stilladorned her shoulders in defiance of all fashions,past, present, or to come; but the expression of herbrown countenance had grown softer, her tonguehad found a curb, and in her hand lay a card with"Potts, Kettel & Co." inscribed thereon, whichshe regarded with never a scornful word for theCo."
He looked at Laura. She was before her easelas of old; but the pale nun had given place to ablooming girl, who sang at her work, which wasno prim Pallas, but a Clytie turning her humanface to meet the sun.
"John, what are you thinking of?"
He stirred as if Di's voice had disturbed hisfancy at some pleasant pastime, but answered withhis usual sincerity,--
"I was thinking of a certain dear old fairy talecalled 'Cinderella.'"
"Oh!" said Di; and her "Oh" was a mostimpressive monosyllable. "I see the meaning ofyour smile now; and though the application of thestory is not very complimentary to all partiesconcerned, it is very just and very true."
She paused a moment, then went on with softenedvoice and earnest mien:--
"You think I am a blind and selfish creature.So I am, but not so blind and selfish as I havebeen; for many tears have cleared my eyes, andmuch sincere regret has made me humbler than Iwas. I have found a better book than any father'slibrary can give me, and I have read it witha love and admiration that grew stronger as Iturned the leaves. Henceforth I take it for myguide and gospel, and, looking back upon theselfish and neglectful past, can only say, Heavenbless your dear heart, Nan!"
Laura echoed Di's last words; for, with eyesas full of tenderness, she looked down upon thesister 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; andwhen I am far away with Philip, there will alwaysbe one countenance more beautiful to methan any pictured face I may discover, there willbe one place more dear to me than Rome. Theface will be yours, Nan, always so patient, alwaysso serene; and the dearer place will be this home ofours, which you have made so pleasant to me allthese years by kindnesses as numberless andnoiseless as the drops of dew."
"Dear girls, what have I ever done, that youshould love me so?" cried Nan, with happywonderment, 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;-whereshall we find the Prince? "
"There!" cried Di, pointing to John; andthen her secret went off like a rocket; for, with herold impetuosity, she said,--
"I have found you out, John, and am ashamedto look you in the face, remembering the past.Girls, you know when father died, John sent usmoney, which he said Mr. Owen had long owedus and had paid at last? It was a kind lie, John,and a generous thing to do; for we needed it, butnever would have taken it as a gift. I know youmeant that we should never find this out; butyesterday I met Mr. Owen returning from theWest, and when I thanked him for a piece of justicewe had not expected of him, he gruffly told mehe had never paid the debt, never meant to pay it,for it was outlawed, and we could not claim afarthing. John, I have laughed at you, thoughtyou stupid, treated you unkindly; but I know younow, and never shall forget the lesson you havetaught me. I am proud as Lucifer, but I ask youto forgive me, and I seal my real repentance so--and so."
With tragic countenance, Di rushed across theroom, threw both arms about the astonished youngman's neck and dropped an energetic kiss upon hischeek. There was a momentary silence; for Difinally illustrated her strong-minded theories bycrying like the weakest of her sex. Laura, with "theruling passion strong in death," still tried to draw,but broke her pet crayon, and endowed her Clytiewith a supplementary orb, owing to the dimness ofher own. And Nan sat with drooping eyes, thatshone 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 alittle daunted by her loss of self-control.
"Don't laugh, John,--I couldn't help it; anddon't think I'm not sincere, for I am,--I am; andI will prove it by growing good enough to be yourfriend. That debt must all be paid, and I shalldo it; for I'll turn my books and pen to someaccount, and write stories full of clear old souls likeyou and Nan; and some one, I know, will like andbuy them, though they are not 'works of Shakespeare.'I've thought of this before, have felt Ihad the power in me; now I have the motive, andnow I'll do it."
If Di had Proposed to translate the Koran, orbuild a new Saint Paul's, there would have beenmany chances of success; for, once moved, herwill, like a battering-ram, would knock down theobstacles her wits could not surmount. Johnbelieved in her most heartily, and showed it, as heanswered, looking into her resolute face,--
"I know you will, and yet make us very proudof our 'Chaos,' Di. Let the money lie, and whenyou have a fortune, I'll claim it with enormousinterest; but, believe me, I feel already doublyrepaid by the esteem so generously confessed, socordially bestowed, and can only say, as we usedto 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 freedomand new respect,--
"No more sentiment, please, John. We knoweach other now; and when I find a friend, I neverlet him go. We have smoked the pipe of peace;so let us go back to our wigwams and bury thefeud. Where were we when I lost my head? andwhat 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 ornamentingwith microscopic stitches a great patchgoing on, the wrong side out.
"Yes,--so we were; and now taking pussy forthe godmother, the characters of the story are wellpersonated,--all but the slipper," said Di, laughing,as she thought of the many times they hadplayed it together years ago.
A sudden movement stirred John's frame, asudden purpose shone in his countenance, and asudden change befell his voice, as he said,producing from some hiding-place a littlewornout shoe,--
"I can supply the slipper;--who will try itfirst?"
Di's black eyes opened wide, as they fell onthe familiar object; then her romance-loving naturesaw the whole plot of that drama which needs buttwo to act it. A great delight flushed upinto her face, as she promptly took her cue, saying--
" No need for us to try it, Laura; for it wouldn'tfit us, if our feet were as small as Chinese dolls;our parts are played out; therefore 'Exeuntwicked sisters to the music of the wedding-bells.'"
And pouncing upon the dismayed artist, she swepther out and closed the door with a triumphantbang.
John went to Nan, and, dropping on his knee asreverently as the herald of the fairy tale, he asked,still smiling, but with lips grown tremulous,--
"Will Cinderella try the little shoe, and--ifit fits--go with the Prince?"
But Nan only covered up her face, weepinghappy tears, while all the weary work strayeddown upon the floor, as if it knew her holiday hadcome.
John drew the hidden face still closer, and whileshe listened to his eager words, Nan heard thebeating of the strong man's heart, and knew itspoke the truth.
"Nan, I promised mother to be silent till I wassure I loved you wholly,--sure that the knowledgewould give no pain when I should tell it, as I amtrying to tell it now. This little shoe has been mvcomforter through this long year, and I have keptit as other lovers keep their fairer favors. It hasbeen a talisman more eloquent to me than floweror ring; for, when I saw how worn it was, I alwaysthought of the willing feet that came and went forothers' comfort all day long; when I saw the littlebow you tied, I always thought of the hands sodiligent in serving any one who knew a want orfelt a pain; and when I recalled the gentle creaturewho had worn it last, I always saw her patient,tender, and devout,--and tried to grow moreworthy of her, that I might one day dare to askif she would walk beside me all my life and be my'angel in the house.' Will you, dear? Believeme, you shall never know a weariness or grief Ihave 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 againsthis own, and answered softly,--
"Oh, John, I never can be sad or tired anymore!"
Read a great short story every day;