It was a cold November storm, and everything looked forlorn. Eventhe pert sparrows were draggle-tailed and too much out of spirits tofight for crumbs with the fat pigeons who tripped through the mudwith their little red boots as if in haste to get back to their cosyhome in the dove-cot.
But the most forlorn creature out that day was a small errand girl,with a bonnet-box on each arm, and both hands struggling to hold abig broken umbrella. A pair of worn-out boots let in the wet uponher tired feet; a thin cotton dress and an old shawl poorlyprotected her from the storm; and a faded hood covered her head.
The face that looked out from this hood was too pale and anxious forone so young; and when a sudden gust turned the old umbrella insideout with a crash, despair fell upon poor Lizzie, and she was somiserable she could have sat down in the rain and cried.
But there was no time for tears; so, dragging the dilapidatedumbrella along, she spread her shawl over the bonnet-boxes andhurried down the broad street, eager to hide her misfortunes from apretty young girl who stood at a window laughing at her.
She could not find the number of the house where one of the finehats was to be left; and after hunting all down one side of thestreet, she crossed over, and came at last to the very house wherethe pretty girl lived. She was no longer to be seen; and, with asigh of relief, Lizzie rang the bell, and was told to wait in thehall while Miss Belle tried the hat on.
Glad to rest, she warmed her feet, righted her umbrella, and thensat looking about her with eyes quick to see the beauty and thecomfort that made the place so homelike and delightful. A smallwaiting-room opened from the hall, and in it stood many bloomingplants, whose fragrance attracted Lizzie as irresistibly as if shehad been a butterfly or bee.
Slipping in, she stood enjoying the lovely colors, sweet odors, anddelicate shapes of these household spirits; for Lizzie loved flowerspassionately; and just then they possessed a peculiar charm for her.
One particularly captivating little rose won her heart, and made herlong for it with a longing that became a temptation too strong toresist. It was so perfect; so like a rosy face smiling out from thegreen leaves, that Lizzie could NOT keep her hands off it, andhaving smelt, touched, and kissed it, she suddenly broke the stemand hid it in her pocket. Then, frightened at what she had done, shecrept back to her place in the hall, and sat there, burdened withremorse.
A servant came just then to lead her upstairs; for Miss Belle wishedthe hat altered, and must give directions. With her heart in aflutter, and pinker roses in her cheeks than the one in her pocket,Lizzie followed to a handsome room, where a pretty girl stood beforea long mirror with the hat in her hand.
"Tell Madame Tifany that I don't like it at all, for she hasn't putin the blue plume mamma ordered; and I won't have rose-buds, theyare so common," said the young lady, in a dissatisfied tone, as shetwirled the hat about.
"Yes, miss," was all Lizzie could say; for SHE considered that hatthe loveliest thing a girl could possibly own.
"You had better ask your mamma about it, Miss Belle, before you giveany orders. She will be up in a few moments, and the girl can wait,"put in a maid, who was sewing in the ante-room.
"I suppose I must; but I WON'T have roses," answered Belle, crossly.Then she glanced at Lizzie, and said more gently, "You look verycold; come and sit by the fire while you wait."
"I'm afraid I'll wet the pretty rug, miss; my feet are sopping,"said Lizzie, gratefully, but timidly.
"So they are! Why didn't you wear rubber boots?"
"I haven't got any."
"I'll give you mine, then, for I hate them; and as I never go out inwet weather, they are of no earthly use to me. Marie, bring themhere; I shall be glad to get rid of them, and I'm sure they'll beuseful to you."
"Oh, thank you, miss! I'd like 'em ever so much, for I'm out in therain half the time, and get bad colds because my boots are old,"said Lizzie, smiling brightly at the thought of the welcome gift.
"I should think your mother would get you warmer things," beganBelle, who found something rather interesting in the shabby girl,with shy bright eyes, and curly hair bursting out of the old hood.
"I haven't got any mother," said Lizzie, with a pathetic glance ather poor clothes.
"I'm so sorry! Have you brothers and sisters?" asked Belle, hopingto find something pleasant to talk about; for she was a kind littlesoul.
"No, miss; I've got no folks at all."
"Oh, dear; how sad! Why, who takes care of you?" cried Belle,looking quite distressed.
"No one; I take care of myself. I work for Madame, and she pays me adollar a week. I stay with Mrs. Brown, and chore round to pay for mykeep. My dollar don't get many clothes, so I can't be as neat as I'dlike." And the forlorn look came back to poor Lizzie's face.
Belle said nothing, but sat among the sofa cushions, where she hadthrown herself, looking soberly at this other girl, no older thanshe was, who took care of herself and was all alone in the world. Itwas a new idea to Belle, who was loved and petted as an only childis apt to be. She often saw beggars and pitied them, but knew verylittle about their wants and lives; so it was like turning a newpage in her happy life to be brought so near to poverty as thischance meeting with the milliner's girl.
"Aren't you afraid and lonely and unhappy?" she said, slowly,trying to understand and put herself in Lizzie's place.
"Yes; but it's no use. I can't help it, and may be things will getbetter by and by, and I'll have my wish," answered Lizzie, morehopefully, because Belle's pity warmed her heart and made hertroubles seem lighter.
"What is your wish?" asked Belle, hoping mamma wouldn't come justyet, for she was getting interested in the stranger.
"To have a nice little room, and make flowers, like a French girl Iknow. It's such pretty work, and she gets lots of money, for everyone likes her flowers. She shows me how, sometimes, and I can doleaves first-rate; but--"
There Lizzie stopped suddenly, and the color rushed up to herforehead; for she remembered the little rose in her pocket and itweighed upon her conscience like a stone.
Before Belle could ask what was the matter, Marie came in with atray of cake and fruit, saying:
"Here's your lunch, Miss Belle."
"Put it down, please; I'm not ready for it yet."
And Belle shook her head as she glanced at Lizzie, who was staringhard at the fire with such a troubled face that Belle could not bearto see it.
Jumping out of her nest of cushions, she heaped a plate with goodthings, and going to Lizzie, offered it, saying, with a gentlecourtesy that made the act doubly sweet:
"Please have some; you must be tired of waiting."
But Lizzie could not take it; she could only cover her face and cry;for this kindness rent her heart and made the stolen flower a burdentoo heavy to be borne.
"Oh, don't cry so! Are you sick? Have I been rude? Tell me all aboutit; and if I can't do anything, mamma can," said Belle, surprisedand troubled.
"No; I'm not sick; I'm bad, and I can't bear it when you are so goodto me," sobbed Lizzie, quite overcome with penitence; and taking outthe crumpled rose, she confessed her fault with many tears.
"Don't feel so much about such a little thing as that," began Belle,warmly; then checked herself, and added, more soberly, "It WAS wrongto take it without leave; but it's all right now, and I'll give youas many roses as you want, for I know you are a good girl."
"Thank you. I didn't want it only because it was pretty, but Iwanted to copy it. I can't get any for myself, and so I can't do mymake-believe ones well. Madame won't even lend me the old ones inthe store, and Estelle has none to spare for me, because I can't payher for teaching me. She gives me bits of muslin and wire andthings, and shows me now and then. But I know if I had a real flowerI could copy it; so she'd see I did know something, for I try realhard. I'm SO tired of slopping round the streets, I'd do anything toearn my living some other way."
Lizzie had poured out her trouble rapidly; and the little story wasquite affecting when one saw the tears on her cheeks, the poorclothes, and the thin hands that held the stolen rose. Belle wasmuch touched, and, in her impetuous way, set about mending mattersas fast as possible.
"Put on those boots and that pair of dry stockings right away. Thentuck as much cake and fruit into your pocket as it will hold. I'mgoing to get you some flowers, and see if mamma is too busy toattend to me."
With a nod and a smile, Belle flew about the room a minute; thenvanished, leaving Lizzie to her comfortable task, feeling as iffairies still haunted the world as in the good old times.
When Belle came back with a handful of roses, she found Lizzieabsorbed in admiring contemplation of her new boots, as she atesponge-cake in a blissful sort of waking-dream.
"Mamma can't come; but I don't care about the hat. It will do verywell, and isn't worth fussing about. There, will those be of any useto you?" And she offered the nosegay with a much happier face thanthe one Lizzie first saw.
"Oh, miss, they're just lovely! I'll copy that pink rose as soon asever I can, and when I've learned how to do 'em tip-top, I'd like tobring you some, if you don't mind," answered Lizzie, smiling allover her face as she buried her nose luxuriously in the fragrantmass.
"I'd like it very much, for I should think you'd have to be veryclever to make such pretty things. I really quite fancy thoserosebuds in my hat, now I know that you're going to learn how tomake them. Put an orange in your pocket, and the flowers in water assoon as you can, so they'll be fresh when you want them. Good-by.Bring home our hats every time and tell me how you get on."
With kind words like these, Belle dismissed Lizzie, who randownstairs, feeling as rich as if she had found a fortune. Away tothe next place she hurried, anxious to get her errands done and theprecious posy safely into fresh water. But Mrs. Turretviile was notat home, and the bonnet could not be left till paid for. So Lizzieturned to go down the high steps, glad that she need not wait. Shestopped one instant to take a delicious sniff at her flowers, andthat was the last happy moment that poor Lizzie knew for many wearymonths.
The new boots were large for her, the steps slippery with sleet, anddown went the little errand girl, from top to bottom, till shelanded in the gutter directly upon Mrs. Turretville's costly bonnet.
"I've saved my posies, anyway," sighed Lizzie, as she picked herselfup, bruised, wet, and faint with pain; "but, oh, my heart! won'tMadame scold when she sees that band-box smashed flat," groaned thepoor child, sitting on the curbstone to get her breath and view thedisaster.
The rain poured, the wind blew, the sparrows on the park railingchirped derisively, and no one came along to help Lizzie out of hertroubles. Slowly she gathered up her burdens; painfully she limpedaway in the big boots; and the last the naughty sparrows saw of herwas a shabby little figure going round the corner, with a pale,tearful face held lovingly over the bright bouquet that was her onetreasure and her only comfort in the moment which brought to her thegreat misfortune of her life.
"Oh, mamma, I am so relieved that the box has come at last! If ithad not, I do believe I should have died of disappointment," criedpretty Belle, five years later, on the morning before her eighteenthbirthday.
"It would have been a serious disappointment, darling; for I had sotmy heart on your wearing my gift to-morrow night, and when thesteamers kept coming in without my trunk from Paris, I was veryanxious. I hope you will like it."
"Dear mamma, I know I shall like it; your taste is so good and youknow what suits me so well. Make haste, Marie; I'm dying to see it,"said Belle, dancing about the great trunk, as the maid carefullyunfolded tissue papers and muslin wrappers.
A young girl's first ball-dress is a grand affair,--in her eyes, atleast; and Belle soon stopped dancing, to stand with clasped hands,eager eyes and parted lips before the snowy pile of illusion thatwas at last daintily lifted out upon the bed. Then, as Mariedisplayed its loveliness, little cries of delight were heard, andwhen the whole delicate dress was arranged to the best effect shethrew herself upon her mother's neck and actually cried withpleasure.
"Mamma, it is too lovely I and you are very kind to do so much forme. How shall I ever thank you?"
"By putting it right on to see if it fits; and when you wear it lookyour happiest, that I may be proud of my pretty daughter."
Mamma got no further, for Marie uttered a French shriek, wrung herhands, and then began to burrow wildly in the trunk and among thepapers, crying distractedly:
"Great Heavens, madame! the wreath has been forgotten! What anaffliction! Mademoiselle's enchanting toilette is destroyed withoutthe wreath, and nowhere do I find it."
In vain they searched; in vain Marie wailed and Belle declared itmust be somewhere; no wreath appeared. It was duly set down in thebill, and a fine sum charged for a head-dress to match the daintyforget-me-nots that looped the fleecy skirts and ornamented thebosom of the dress. It had evidently been forgotten; and mammadespatched Marie at once to try and match the flowers, for Bellewould not hear of any other decoration for her beautiful blondehair.
The dress fitted to a charm, and was pronounced by all beholders theloveliest thing ever seen. Nothing was wanted but the wreath to makeit quite perfect, and when Marie returned, after a long search, withno forget-me-nots, Belle was in despair.
"Wear natural ones," suggested a sympathizing friend.
But another hunt among greenhouses was as fruitless as that amongthe milliners' rooms. No forget-me-nots could be found, and Mariefell exhausted into a chair, desolated at what she felt to be anawful calamity.
"Let me have the carriage, and I'll ransack the city till I findsome," cried Belle, growing more resolute with each failure.
Marnma was deep in preparations for the ball, and could not help herafflicted daughter, though she was much disappointed at the mishap.So Belle drove off, resolved to have her flowers whether there wereany or not.
Any one who has ever tried to match a ribbon, find a certain fabric,or get anything done in a hurry, knows what a wearisome task itsometimes is, and can imagine Belle's state of mind after repeateddisappointments. She was about to give up in despair, when some onesuggested that perhaps the Frenchwoman, Estelle Valnor, might makethe desired wreath, if there was time.
Away drove Belle, and, on entering the room, gave a sigh ofsatisfaction, for a whole boxful of the loveliest forget-me-notsstood upon the table. As fast as possible, she told her tale anddemanded the flowers, no matter what the price might be. Imagine herfeelings when the Frenchwoman, with a shrug, announced that it wasimpossible to give mademoiselle a single spray. All were engaged totrim a bridesmaid's dress, and must be sent away at once.
It really was too bad! and Belle lost her temper entirely, for nopersuasion or bribes would win a spray from Estelle. The provokingpart of it was that the wedding would not come off for several days,and there was time enough to make more flowers for that dress, sinceBelle only wanted a few for her hair. Neither would Estelle make herany, as her hands were full, and so small an order was not worthderanging one's self for; but observing Belle's sorrowful face, shesaid, affably:
"Mademoiselle may, perhaps, find the flowers she desires at MissBerton's. She has been helping me with these garlands, and may havesome left. Here is her address."
Belle took the card with thanks, and hurried away with a last hopefaintly stirring in her girlish heart, for Belle had an unusuallyardent wish to look her best at this party, since Somebody was to bethere, and Somebody considered forget-me-nots the sweetest flowersin the world. Mamma knew this, and the kiss Belle gave her when thedress came had a more tender meaning than gratified vanity ordaughterly love.
Up many stairs she climbed, and came at last to a little room, verypoor but very neat, where, at the one window, sat a young girl, withcrutches by her side and her lap full of flower-leaves and petals.She rose slowly as Belle came in, and then stood looking at her,with such a wistful expression in her shy, bright eyes, that Belle'sanxious face cleared involuntarily, and her voice lost its impatienttone.
As she spoke, she glanced about the room, hoping to see some blueblossoms awaiting her. But none appeared; and she was about todespond again, when the girl said, gently:
"I have none by me now, but I may be able to find you some."
"Thank you very much; but I have been everywhere in vain. Still, ifyou do get any, please send them to me as soon as possible. Here ismy card."
Miss Berton glanced at it, then cast a quick look at the sweet,anxious face before her, and smiled so brightly that Belle smiledalso, and asked, wonderingly:
"What is it? What do you see?"
"I see the dear young lady who was so kind to me long ago. You don'tremember me, and never knew my name; but I never have forgotten youall these years. I always hoped I could do something to show howgrateful I was, and now I can, for you shall have your flowers if Isit up all night to make them."
But Belle still shook her head and watched the smiling face beforeher with wondering eyes, till the girl added, with sudden color inher cheeks:
"Ah, you've done so many kind things in your life, you don'tremember the little errand girl from Madame Tifany's who stole arose in your hall, and how you gave her rubber boots and cake andflowers, and were so good to her she couldn't forget it if she livedto be a hundred."
"But you are so changed," began Belle, who did faintly recollectthat little incident in her happy life.
"Yes, I had a fall and hurt myself so that I shall always be lame."
And Lizzie went on to tell how Madame had dismissed her in a rage;how she lay ill till Mrs. Brown sent her to the hospital; and howfor a year she had suffered much alone, in that great house of pain,before one of the kind visitors had befriended her.
While hearing the story of the five years, that had been so full ofpleasure, ease and love for herself, Belle forgot her errand, and,sitting beside Lizzie, listened with pitying eyes to all she told ofher endeavors to support herself by the delicate handiwork sheloved.
"I'm very happy now," ended Lizzie, looking about the little bareroom with a face full of the sweetest content. "I get nearly workenough to pay my way, and Estelle sends me some when she has morethan she can do. I've learned to do it nicely, and it is so pleasantto sit here and make flowers instead of trudging about in the wetwith other people's hats. Though I do sometimes wish I was able totrudge, one gets on so slowly with crutches."
A little sigh followed the words, and Belle put her own plump handon the delicate one that held the crutch, saying, in her cordialyoung voice:
"I'll come and take you to drive sometimes, for you are too pale,and you'll get ill sitting here at work day after day. Please letme; I'd love to; for I feel so idle and wicked when I see busypeople like you that I reproach myself for neglecting my duty andhaving more than my share of happiness."
Lizzie thanked her with a look, and then said, in a tone of interestthat was delightful to hear:
"Tell about the wreath you want; I should so love to do it for you,if I can."
Belle had forgotten all about it in listening to this sad littlestory of a girl's life. Now she felt half ashamed to talk of sofrivolous a matter till she remembered that it would help Lizzie;and, resolving to pay for it as never garland was paid for before,she entered upon the subject with renewed interest.
"You shall have the flowers in time for your ball to-morrow night. Iwill engage to make a wreath that will please you, only it may takelonger than I think. Don't be troubled if I don't send it tillevening; it will surely come in time. I can work fast, and this willbe the happiest job I ever did," said Lizzie, beginning to lay outmysterious little tools and bend delicate wires.
"You are altogether too grateful for the little I have done. Itmakes me feel ashamed to think I did not find you out before and dosomething better worth thanks."
"Ah, it wasn't the boots or the cake or the roses, dear Miss Belle.It was the kind looks, the gentle words, the way it was done, thatwent right to my heart, and did me more good than a million ofmoney. I never stole a pin after that day, for the little rosewouldn't let me forget how you forgave me so sweetly. I sometimesthink it kept me from greater temptations, for I was a poor, forlornchild, with no one to keep me good."
Pretty Belle looked prettier than ever as she listened, and a brighttear stood in either eye like a drop of dew on a blue flower. Ittouched her very much to learn that her little act of childishcharity had been so sweet and helpful to this lonely girl, and nowlived so freshly in her grateful memory. It showed her, suddenly,how precious little deeds of love and sympathy are; how strong tobless, how easy to perform, how comfortable to recall. Her heart wasvery full and tender just then, and the lesson sunk deep into itnever to be forgotten.
She sat a long time watching flowers bud and blossom under Lizzie'sskilful fingers, and then hurried home to tell all her glad news tomamma.
If the next day had not been full of most delightfully excitingevents, Belle might have felt some anxiety about her wreath, forhour after hour went by and nothing arrived from Lizzie.
Evening came, and all was ready. Belle was dressed, and looked solovely that mamma declared she needed nothing more. But Marieinsisted that the grand effect would be ruined without the garlandamong the sunshiny hair. Belle had time now to be anxious, andwaited with growing impatience for the finishing touch to hercharming toilette.
"I must be downstairs to receive, and can't wait another moment; soput in the blue pompon and let me go," she said at last, with a sighof disappointment, for the desire to look beautiful that night inSomebody's eyes had increased four-fold.
With a tragic gesture, Marie was about to adjust the pompon when thequick tap of a crutch came down the hall, and Lizzie hurried in,flushed and breathless, but smiling happily as she uncovered the boxshe carried with a look of proud satisfaction.
A general "Ah!" of admiration arose as Belle, mamma, and Mariesurveyed the lovely wreath that lay before them; and when it wascarefully arranged on the bright head that was to wear it, Belleblushed with pleasure. Mamma said: "It is more beautiful than anyParis could have sent us;" and Marie clasped her hands theatrically,sighing, with her head on one side:
"Truly, yes; mademoiselle is now adorable!"
"I am so glad you like it. I did my very best and worked all night,but I had to beg one spray from Estelle, or, with all my haste, Icould not have finished in time," said Lizzie, refreshing her wearyeyes with a long, affectionate gaze at the pretty figure before her.
A fold of the airy skirt was caught on one of the blue clusters, andLizzie knelt down to arrange it as she spoke. Belle leaned towardher and said softly: "Money alone can't pay you for this kindness;so tell me how I can best serve you. This is the happiest night ofmy life, and I want to make every one feel glad also."
"Then don't talk of paying me, but promise that I may make theflowers you wear on your wedding-day," whispered Lizzie, kissing thekind hand held out to help her rise, for on it she saw a brilliantring, and in the blooming, blushing face bent over her she read thetender little story that Somebody had told Belle that day.
"So you shall! and I'll keep this wreath all my life for your sake,dear," answered Belle, as her full heart bubbled over with pityingaffection for the poor girl who would never make a bridal garlandfor herself.
Belle kept her word, even when she was in a happy home of her own;for out of the dead roses bloomed a friendship that brightenedLizzie's life; and long after the blue garland was faded Belleremembered the helpful little lesson that taught her to read thefaces poverty touches with a pathetic eloquence, which says to thosewho look, "Forget-me-not."
Return to the Louisa May Alcott library , or . . . Read the next short story; Rosy's Journey