by Louisa M. Alcott
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A party of young girls, in their gay
bathing-dresses, were sitting on the
beach waiting for the tide to rise a little
higher before they enjoyed the daily frolic which
they called "mermaiding."
"I wish we could have a clam-bake; but we
have n't any clams, and don't know how to cook
them if we had. It's such a pity all the boys
have gone off on that stupid fishing excursion,"
said one girl, in a yellow-and-black striped suit
which made her look like a wasp.
"What is a clam-bake? I do not know that
kind of fête," asked a pretty brown-eyed girl,
with an accent that betrayed the foreigner.
The girls laughed at such sad ignorance, and
Sophie colored, wishing she had not spoken.
"Poor thing! she has never tasted a clam.
What should we do if we went to Switzerland?"
said the wasp, who loved to tease.
"We should give you the best we had, and
not laugh at your ignorance, if you did not
know all our dishes. In my country, we have
politeness, though not the clam-bake," answered
Sophie, with a flash of the brown eyes which
warned naughty Di to desist.
"We might row to the light-house, and have
a picnic supper. Our mammas will let us do
that alone," suggested Dora from the roof of
the bath-house, where she perched like a
"That's a good idea," cried Fanny, a slender
brown girl who sat dabbling her feet in the
water, with her hair streaming in the wind.
"Sophie should see that, and get some of the
shells she likes so much."
"You are kind to think of me. I shall be
glad to have a necklace of the pretty things, as
a souvenir of this so charming place and my
good friend," answered Sophie, with a grateful
look at Fanny, whose many attentions had won
the stranger's heart.
"Those boys have n't left us a single boat, so
we must dive off the rocks, and that is n't half
so nice," said Di, to change the subject, being
ashamed of her rudeness.
"A boat is just coming round the Point;
perhaps we can hire that, and have some fun,"
cried Dora, from her perch. "There is only
a girl in it; I 'll hail her when she is near
Sophie looked about her to see where the
hail was coming from; but the sky was clear,
and she waited to see what new meaning this
word might have, not daring to ask for fear of
While the girls watched the boat float around
the farther horn of the crescent-shaped beach,
we shall have time to say a few words about
our little heroine.
She was a sixteen-year-old Swiss girl, on a
visit to some American friends, and had come
to the seaside for a month with one of them
who was an invalid. This left Sophie to the
tender mercies of the young people; and they
gladly welcomed the pretty creature, with her
fine manners, foreign ways, and many
accomplishments. But she had a quick temper, a
funny little accent, and dressed so very plainly
that the girls could not resist criticising and
teasing her in a way that seemed very ill-bred
and unkind to the new-comer.
Their free and easy ways astonished her,
their curious language bewildered her; and their
ignorance of many things she had been taught
made her wonder at the American education she
had heard so much praised. All had studied
French and German; yet few read or spoke
either tongue correctly, or understood her easily
when she tried to talk to them. Their music
did not amount to much, and in the games they
played, their want of useful information amazed
Sophie. One did not know the signs of the
zodiac; another could only say of cotton that
"it was stuff that grew down South;" and a
third was not sure whether a frog was an animal
or a reptile, while the handwriting and
spelling displayed on these occasions left much to
be desired. Yet all were fifteen or sixteen,
and would soon leave school "finished," as
they expressed it, but not furnished, as they
should have been, with a solid, sensible
education. Dress was an all-absorbing topic,
sweetmeats their delight; and in confidential moments
sweethearts were discussed with great freedom.
Fathers were conveniences, mothers comforters,
brothers plagues, and sisters ornaments or
playthings according to their ages. They were not
hard-hearted girls, only frivolous, idle, and fond
of fun; and poor little Sophie amused them
immensely till they learned to admire, love, and
Coming straight from Paris, they expected to
find that her trunks contained the latest fashions
for demoiselles, and begged to see her dresses
with girlish interest. But when Sophie
obligingly showed a few simple, but pretty and
appropriate gowns and hats, they exclaimed with
"Why, you dress like a little girl! Don't
you have ruffles and lace on your dresses; and
silks and high-heeled boots and long gloves
and bustles and corsets, and things like ours?"
"I am a little girl," laughed Sophie, hardly
understanding their dismay. "What should I
do with fine toilets at school? My sisters go
to balls in silk and lace; but I--not yet."
"How queer! Is your father poor?" asked
Di, with Yankee bluntness.
"We have enough," answered Sophie, slightly
knitting her dark brows.
"How many servants do you keep?"
"But five, now that the little ones are grown up."
"Have you a piano?" continued undaunted
Di, while the others affected to be looking at
the books and pictures strewn about by the
"We have two pianos, four violins, three
flutes, and an organ. We love music, and all
play, from papa to little Franz."
"My gracious, how swell! You must live in
a big house to hold all that and eight brothers
"We are not peasants; we do not live in a
hut. Voilà, this is my home." And Sophie
laid before them a fine photograph of a large
and elegant house on lovely Lake Geneva.
It was droll to see the change in the faces of
the girls as they looked, admired, and slyly
nudged one another, enjoying saucy Di's
astonishment, for she had stoutly insisted that the
Swiss girl was a poor relation.
Sophie meanwhile was folding up her plain
piqué and muslin frocks, with a glimmer of
mirthful satisfaction in her eyes, and a tender
pride in the work of loving hands now far away.
Kind Fanny saw a little quiver of the lips
as she smoothed the blue corn-flowers in the
best hat, and put her arm around Sophie,
"Never mind, dear, they don't mean to be
rude; it's only our Yankee way of asking
questions. I like all your things, and that hat
is perfectly lovely."
"Indeed, yes! Dear mamma arranged it for
me. I was thinking of her and longing for my
"Do you do that every day?" asked Fanny,
forgetting herself in her sympathetic interest.
"Surely, yes. Papa and mamma sit always
on the sofa, and we all have the hand-shake and
the embrace each day before our morning
coffee. I do not see that here," answered Sophie,
who sorely missed the affectionate respect
foreign children give their parents.
"Have n't time," said Fanny, smiling too, at
the idea of American parents sitting still for
five minutes in the busiest part of the busy day
to kiss their sons and daughters.
"It is what you call old-fashioned, but a
sweet fashion to me; and since I have not
the dear warm cheeks to kiss, I embrace my
pictures often. See, I have them all." And
Sophie unfolded a Russia-leather case, displaying
with pride a long row of handsome brothers
and sisters with the parents in the midst.
More exclamations from the girls, and
increased interest in "Wilhelmina Tell," as they
christened the loyal Swiss maiden, who was
now accepted as a companion, and soon became
a favorite with old and young.
They could not resist teasing her, however,--her
mistakes were so amusing, her little flashes
of temper so dramatic, and her tongue so quick
to give a sharp or witty answer when the new
language did not perplex her. But Fanny
always took her part, and helped her in many
ways. Now they sat together on the rock, a
pretty pair of mermaids with wind-tossed hair,
wave-washed feet, and eyes fixed on the
The girl who sat in it was a great contrast to
the gay creatures grouped so picturesquely on
the shore, for the old straw hat shaded a very
anxious face, the brown calico gown covered a
heart full of hopes and fears, and the boat that
drifted so slowly with the incoming tide carried
Tilly Reed like a young Columbus toward the
new world she longed for, believed in, and was
resolved to discover.
It was a weather-beaten little boat, yet very
pretty; for a pile of nets lay at one end, a creel
of red lobsters at the other, and all between
stood baskets of berries and water-lilies, purple
marsh rosemary and orange butterfly-weed,
shells and great smooth stones such as artists
like to paint little sea-views on. A tame gull
perched on the prow; and the morning sunshine
glittered from the blue water to the bluer sky.
"Oh, how pretty! Come on, please, and
sell us some lilies," cried Dora, and roused
Tilly from her waking dream.
Pushing back her hat, she saw the girls
beckoning, felt that the critical moment had come,
and catching up her oars, rowed bravely on,
though her cheeks reddened and her heart beat,
for this venture was her last hope, and on its
success depended the desire of her life. As
the boat approached, the watchers forgot its
cargo to look with surprise and pleasure at its
rower, for she was not the rough country lass
they expected to see, but a really splendid girl
of fifteen, tall, broad-shouldered, bright-eyed,
and blooming, with a certain shy dignity of her
own and a very sweet smile, as she nodded and
pulled in with strong, steady strokes. Before
they could offer help, she had risen, planted
an oar in the water, and leaping to the shore,
pulled her boat high up on the beach, offering
her wares with wistful eyes and a very expressive
wave of both brown hands.
"Everything is for sale, if you 'll buy," said she.
Charmed with the novelty of this little
adventure, the girls, after scampering to the
bathing-houses for purses and portemonnaies,
crowded around the boat like butterflies about
a thistle, all eager to buy, and to discover who
this bonny fisher-maiden might be.
"Oh, see these beauties!" "A dozen lilies
for me!" "All the yellow flowers for me,
they'll be so becoming at the dance to-night!"
"Ow! that lob bites awfully!" "Where do
you come from?" "Why have we never seen
These were some of the exclamations and
questions showered upon Tilly, as she filled
little birch-bark panniers with berries, dealt out
flowers, or dispensed handfuls of shells. Her
eyes shone, her cheeks glowed, and her heart
danced in her bosom; for this was a better
beginning than she had dared to hope for, and as
the dimes tinkled into the tin pail she used for
her till, it was the sweetest music she had ever
heard. This hearty welcome banished her
shyness; and in these eager, girlish customers she
found it easy to confide.
"I 'm from the light-house. You have never
seen me because I never came before, except
with fish for the hotel. But I mean to come
every day, if folks will buy my things, for I
want to make some money, and this is the only
way in which I can do it."
Sophie glanced at the old hat and worn shoes
of the speaker, and dropping a bright half-dollar
into the pail, said in her pretty way:
"For me all these lovely shells. I will make
necklaces of them for my people at home as
souvenirs of this charming place. If you will
bring me more, I shall be much grateful to you."
"Oh, thank you! I 'll bring heaps; I know
where to find beauties in places where other
folks can't go. Please take these; you paid
too much for the shells;" and quick to feel the
kindness of the stranger, Tilly put into her
hands a little bark canoe heaped with red
Not to be outdone by the foreigner, the other
girls emptied their purses and Tilly's boat also
of all but the lobsters, which were ordered for
"Is that jolly bird for sale?" asked Di, as
the last berry vanished, pointing to the gull
who was swimming near them while the chatter
"If you can catch him," laughed Tilly, whose
spirits were now the gayest of the party.
The girls dashed into the water, and with
shrieks of merriment swam away to capture the
gull, who paddled off as if he enjoyed the fun
as much as they.
Leaving them to splash vainly to and fro,
Tilly swung the creel to her shoulder and went
off to leave her lobsters, longing to dance and
sing to the music of the silver clinking in her
When she came back, the bird was far out of
reach and the girls diving from her boat, which
they had launched without leave. Too happy
to care what happened now, Tilly threw herself
down on the warm sand to plan a new and still
finer cargo for next day.
Sophie came and sat beside her while she
dried her curly hair, and in five minutes her
sympathetic face and sweet ways had won Tilly
to tell all her hopes and cares and dreams.
"I want schooling, and I mean to have it.
I 've got no folks of my own; and uncle has
married again, so he does n't need me now.
If I only had a little money, I could go to
school somewhere, and take care of myself.
Last summer I worked at the hotel, but I did n't
make much, and had to have good clothes, and
that took my wages pretty much. Sewing is
slow work, and baby-tending leaves me no time
to study; so I 've kept on at home picking
berries and doing what I could to pick up
enough to buy books. Aunt thinks I 'm a
fool; but uncle, he says, 'Go ahead, girl, and
see what you can do.' And I mean to show him!"
Tilly's brown hand came down on the sand
with a resolute thump; and her clear young
eyes looked bravely out across the wide sea, as
if far away in the blue distance she saw her
hope happily fulfilled.
Sophie's eyes shone approval, for she
understood this love of independence, and had come
to America because she longed for new scenes
and greater freedom than her native land could
give her. Education is a large word, and both
girls felt that desire for self-improvement that
comes to all energetic natures. Sophie had
laid a good foundation, but still desired more;
while Tilly was just climbing up the first steep
slope which rises to the heights few attain, yet
all may strive for.
"That is beautiful! You will do it! I am
glad to help you if I may. See, I have many
books; will you take some of them? Come to
my room to-morrow and take what will best
please you. We will say nothing of it, and it
will make me a truly great pleasure."
As Sophie spoke, her little white hand
touched the strong, sunburned one that turned
to meet and grasp hers with grateful warmth,
while Tilly's face betrayed the hunger that
possessed her, for it looked as a starving girl's
would look when offered a generous meal.
"I will come. Thank you so much! I
don't know anything, but just blunder along
and do the best I can. I got so discouraged I
was real desperate, and thought I 'd have one
try, and see if I could n't earn enough to get
books to study this winter. Folks buy berries
at the cottages; so I just added flowers and
shells, and I 'm going to bring my boxes of
butterflies, birds' eggs, and seaweeds. I 've got
lots of such things; and people seem to like
spending money down here. I often wish I
had a little of what they throw away."
Tilly paused with a sigh, then laughed as an
impatient movement caused a silver clink; and
slapping her pocket, she added gayly,--
"I won't blame 'em if they 'll only throw their
money in here."
Sophie's hand went involuntarily toward her
own pocket, where lay a plump purse, for papa
was generous, and simple Sophie had few wants.
But something in the intelligent face opposite
made her hesitate to offer as a gift what she
felt sure Tilly would refuse, preferring to earn
her education if she could.
"Come often, then, and let me exchange
these stupid bills for the lovely things you
bring. We will come this afternoon to see you
if we may, and I shall like the butterflies. I
try to catch them; but people tell me I am too
old to run, so I have not many."
Proposed in this way, Tilly fell into the little
trap, and presently rowed away with all her
might to set her possessions in order, and put
her precious earnings in a safe place. The
mermaids clung about the boat as long as they
dared, making a pretty tableau for the artists
on the rocks, then swam to shore, more than
ever eager for the picnic on Light-house Island.
They went, and had a merry time; while
Tilly did the honors and showed them a room
full of treasures gathered from earth, air, and
water, for she led a lonely life, and found friends
among the fishes, made playmates of the birds,
and studied rocks and flowers, clouds and waves,
when books were wanting.
The girls bought gulls' wings for their hats,
queer and lovely shells, eggs and insects,
seaweeds and carved wood, and for their small
brothers, birch baskets and toy ships, made by
Uncle Hiram, who had been a sailor.
When Tilly had sold nearly everything she
possessed (for Fanny and Sophie bought
whatever the others declined), she made a fire of
drift-wood on the rocks, cooked fish for supper,
and kept them till moonrise, telling sea stories
or singing old songs, as if she could not do
enough for these good fairies who had come to
her when life looked hardest and the future
very dark. Then she rowed them home, and
promising to bring loads of fruit and flowers
every day, went back along a shining road, to
find a great bundle of books in her dismantled
room, and to fall asleep with wet eyelashes and
a happy heart.
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For a month Tilly went daily to the Point
with a cargo of pretty merchandise, for her
patrons increased; and soon the ladies engaged
her berries, the boys ordered boats enough to
supply a navy, the children clamored for shells,
and the girls depended on her for bouquets and
garlands for the dances that ended every
summer day. Uncle Hiram's fish was in demand
when such a comely saleswoman offered it; so
he let Tilly have her way, glad to see the old
tobacco-pouch in which she kept her cash fill
fast with well-earned money.
She really began to feel that her dream was
coming true, and she would be able to go to the
town and study in some great school, eking out
her little fund with light work. The other girls
soon lost their interest in her, but Sophie never
did; and many a book went to the island in the
empty baskets, many a helpful word was said
over the lilies or wild honeysuckle Sophie loved
to wear, and many a lesson was given in the
bare room in the light-house tower which no
one knew about but the gulls and the sea-winds
sweeping by the little window where the two
heads leaned together over one page.
"You will do it, Tilly, I am very sure. Such
a will and such a memory will make a way for
you; and one day I shall see you teaching as
you wish. Keep the brave heart, and all will
be well with you," said Sophie, when the grand
breaking-up came in September, and the girls
were parting down behind the deserted bathhouses.
"Oh, Miss Sophie, what should I have done
without you? Don't think I have n't seen and
known all the kind things you have said and
done for me. I 'll never forget 'em; and I do
hope I 'll be able to thank you some day," cried
grateful Tilly, with tears in her clear eyes that
seldom wept over her own troubles.
"I am thanked if you do well. Adieu; write
to me, and remember always that I am your friend."
Then they kissed with girlish warmth, and
Tilly rowed away to the lonely island; while
Sophie lingered on the shore, her handkerchief
fluttering in the wind, till the boat vanished and
the waves had washed away their footprints on the sand.
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December snow was falling fast, and the
wintry wind whistled through the streets; but it
was warm and cosey in the luxurious parlor
where Di and Do were sitting making
Christmas presents, and planning what they would
wear at the party Fanny was to give on Christmas Eve.
"If I can get mamma to buy me a new dress,
I shall have something yellow. It is always
becoming to brunettes, and I 'm so tired of
red," said Di, giving a last touch to the lace that
trimmed a blue satin sachet for Fanny.
"That will be lovely. I shall have pink, with
roses of the same color. Under muslin it is
perfectly sweet." And Dora eyed the sunflower
she was embroidering as if she already saw the
new toilet before her.
"Fan always wears blue, so we shall make a
nice contrast. She is coming over to show me
about finishing off my banner-screen; and I
asked Sophie to come with her. I want to
know what she is going to wear," said Di,
taking a little sniff at the violet-scented bag.
"That old white cashmere. Just think! I
asked her why she did n't get a new one, and
she laughed and said she could n't afford it.
Fan told me Sophie's father sent her a hundred
dollars not long ago, yet she has n't got a thing
that we know of. I do think she 's mean."
"She bought a great bundle of books. I was
there when the parcel came, and I peeped while
she was out of the room, because she put it away
in a great hurry. I 'm afraid she is mean, for
she never buys a bit of candy, and she wears
shabby boots and gloves, and she has made over
her old hat instead of having that lovely one with
the pheasant's breast in it."
"She's very queer; but I can't help liking
her, she's so pretty and bright and obliging.
I 'd give anything if I could speak three
languages and play as she does."
"So would I. It seems so elegant to be able
to talk to foreigners. Papa had some
Frenchmen to dinner the other day, and they were so
pleased to find they need n't speak English to
Sophie. I could n't get on at all; and I was
so mortified when papa said all the money he
had spent on my languages was thrown away."
"I would n't mind. It's so much easier to
learn those things abroad, she would be a goose
if she did n't speak French better than we do.
There's Fan! she looks as if something had
happened. I hope no one is ill and the party spoiled."
As Dora spoke, both girls looked out to see
Fanny shaking the snow from her seal-skin sack
on the doorstep; then Do hastened to meet her,
while Di hid the sachet, and was hard at work
on an old-gold sofa cushion when the new-comer
"What's the matter? Where's Sophie?"
exclaimed the girls together, as Fan threw off
her wraps and sat down with a tragic sigh.
"She will be along in a few minutes. I 'm
disappointed in her! I would n't have believed
it if I had n't seen them. Promise not to breathe
a word to a living soul, and I 'll tell you
something dreadful," began Fanny, in a tone that
caused her friends to drop their work and draw
their chairs nearer, as they solemnly vowed
"I 've seen Sophie's Christmas presents,--all
but mine; and they are just nothing at all! She
has n't bought a thing, not even ribbons, lace,
or silk, to make up prettily as we do. Only
a painted shell for one, an acorn emery for
another, her ivory fan with a new tassel for a
third, and I suspect one of those nice
handkerchiefs embroidered by the nuns for me, or her
silver filigree necklace. I saw the box in the
drawer with the other things. She's knit
woollen cuffs and tippets for the children, and got
some eight-cent calico gowns for the servants. I
don't know how people do things in Switzerland,
but I do know that if I had a hundred dollars
in my pocket, I would be more generous than that!"
As Fanny paused, out of breath, Di and Do
groaned in sympathy, for this was indeed a sad
state of things; because the girls had a code
that Christmas being the season for gifts,
extravagance would be forgiven then as at no
"I have a lovely smelling-bottle for her; but
I 've a great mind not to give it now," cried Di,
feeling defrauded of the bracelet she had plainly
hinted she would like.
"I shall heap coals of fire on her head by
giving her that;" and Dora displayed a very
useless but very pretty apron of muslin, lace,
and carnation ribbon.
"It is n't the worth of the things. I don't care
for that so much as I do for being disappointed
in her; and I have been lately in more ways than
one," said Fanny, listlessly taking up the screen
she was to finish. "She used to tell me everything,
and now she does n't. I 'm sure she has
some sort of a secret; and I do think I ought to
know it. I found her smiling over a letter one
day; and she whisked it into her pocket and
never said a word about it. I always stood by
her, and I do feel hurt."
"I should think you might! It's real naughty
of her, and I shall tell her so! Perhaps she 'll
confide in you then, and you can just give me a
hint; I always liked Sophie, and never thought
of not giving my present," said Dora, persuasively,
for both girls were now dying with
curiosity to know the secret.
"I 'll have it out of her, without any dodging
or bribing. I 'm not afraid of any one, and I
shall ask her straight out, no matter how much
she scowls at me," said dauntless Di, with a
"There she is! Let us see you do it now!"
cried Fanny, as the bell rang, and a clear voice
was heard a moment later asking if
Mademoiselle was in.
"You shall!" and Di looked ready for any
"I 'll wager a box of candy that you don't
find out a thing," whispered Do.
"Done!" answered Di, and then turned to
meet Sophie, who came in looking as fresh as
an Alpine rose with the wintry wind.
"You dear thing! we were just talking of you.
Sit here and get warm, and let us show you our
gifts. We are almost done, but it seems as if it
got to be a harder job each Christmas. Don't
you find it so?"
"But no; I think it the most charming work
of all the year," answered Sophie, greeting her
friend, and putting her well-worn boots toward
the fire to dry.
"Perhaps you don't make as much of Christmas
as we do, or give such expensive presents.
That would make a great difference, you know,"
said Di, as she lifted a cloth from the table
where her own generous store of gifts was set
"I had a piano last year, a set of jewels, and
many pretty trifles from all at home. Here is
one;" and pulling the fine gold chain hidden
under her frills, Sophie showed a locket set
thick with pearls, containing a picture of her
"It must be so nice to be rich, and able to
make such fine presents. I 've got something
for you; but I shall be ashamed of it after I see
your gift to me, I 'm afraid."
Fan and Dora were working as if their bread
depended on it, while Di, with a naughty twinkle
in her eye, affected to be rearranging her pretty
table as she talked.
"Do not fear that; my gifts this year are
very simple ones. I did not know your custom,
and now it is too late. My comfort is that
you need nothing, and having so much, you
will not care for my--what you call--coming short."
Was it the fire that made Sophie's face look
so hot, and a cold that gave a husky sort of tone
to her usually clear voice? A curious expression
came into her face as her eyes roved from the
table to the gay trifles in her friend's hands; and
she opened her lips as if to add something
impulsively. But nothing came, and for a moment
she looked straight out at the storm as if she
had forgotten where she was.
"'Shortcoming' is the proper way to speak
it But never mind that, and tell me why you
say 'too late'?" asked Di, bent on winning her
"Christmas comes in three days, and I have
no time," began Sophie.
"But with money one can buy plenty of
lovely things in one day," said Di.
"No, it is better to put a little love and hard
work into what we give to friends, I have done
that with my trifles, and another year I shall be
There was an uncomfortable pause, for Sophie
did not speak with her usual frankness, but
looked both proud and ashamed, and seemed
anxious to change the subject, as she began to
admire Dora's work, which had made very little
progress during the last fifteen minutes.
Fanny glanced at Di with a smile that made
the other toss her head and return to the charge
with renewed vigor.
"Sophie, will you do me a favor?"
"With much pleasure."
"Do has promised me a whole box of French
bonbons, and if you will answer three questions,
you shall have it."
"Allons," said Sophie, smiling.
"Haven't you a secret?" asked Di, gravely.
"Will you tell us?"
Di paused before she asked her last question,
and Fan and Dora waited breathlessly, while
Sophie knit her brows and looked uneasy.
"Because I do not wish to tell it."
"Will you tell if we guess?"
"You are engaged."
At this absurd suggestion Sophie laughed
gayly, and shook her curly head.
"Do you think we are betrothed at sixteen
in my country?"
"I know that is an engagement ring,--you
made such a time about it when you lost it in
the water, and cried for joy when Tilly dived
and found it."
"Ah, yes, I was truly glad. Dear Tilly, never
do I forget that kindness!" and Sophie kissed
the little pearl ring in her impulsive way, while
her eyes sparkled and the frown vanished.
"I know a sweetheart gave it," insisted Di,
sure now she had found a clew to the secret.
"He did," and Sophie hung her head in a
sentimental way that made the three girls crowd
nearer with faces full of interest.
"Do tell us all about it, dear. It's so interesting
to hear love-stories. What is his name?" cried Dora.
"Hermann," simpered Sophie, drooping still
more, while her lips trembled with suppressed
emotion of some sort.
"How lovely!" sighed Fanny, who was very romantic.
"Tell on, do! Is he handsome?"
"To me the finest man in all the world,"
confessed Sophie, as she hid her face.
"And you love him?"
"I adore him!" and Sophie clasped her
hands so dramatically that the girls were a little
startled, yet charmed at this discovery.
"Have you his picture?" asked Di, feeling
that she had won her wager now.
"Yes," and pulling out the locket again,
Sophie showed in the other side the face of
a fine old gentleman who looked very like herself.
"It's your father!" exclaimed Fanny, rolling
her blue eyes excitedly. "You are a humbug!"
cried Dora. "Then you fibbed about the ring,"
said Di, crossly.
"Never! It is mamma's betrothal ring; but
her finger grew too plump, and when I left home
she gave the ring to me as a charm to keep me
safe. Ah, ha! I have my little joke as well as
you, and the laugh is for me this time." And
falling back among the sofa cushions, Sophie
enjoyed it as only a gay girl could. Do and
Fanny joined her; but Di was much disgusted,
and vowed she would discover the secret and
keep all the bonbons to herself.
"You are most welcome; but I will not tell
until I like, and then to Fanny first. She will
not have ridicule for what I do, but say it is
well, and be glad with me. Come now and
work. I will plait these ribbons, or paint a
wild rose on this pretty fan. It is too plain
now. Will you that I do it, dear Di?"
The kind tone and the prospect of such an
ornament to her gift appeased Di somewhat;
but the mirthful malice in Sophie's eyes made
the other more than ever determined to be even
with her by and by.
Christmas Eve came, and found Di still in
the dark, which fact nettled her sadly, for
Sophie tormented her and amused the other girls
by pretended confidences and dark hints at the
mystery which might never, never be disclosed.
Fan had determined to have an unusually
jolly party; so she invited only her chosen
friends, and opened the festivities with a Christmas
tree, as the prettiest way of exchanging gifts
and providing jokes for the evening in the shape
of delusive bottles, animals full of candy, and
every sort of musical instrument to be used in
an impromptu concert afterward. The presents
to one another were done up in secure parcels,
so that they might burst upon the public eye in
all their freshness. Di was very curious to know
what Fan was going to give her,--for Fanny
was a generous creature and loved to give. Di
was a little jealous of her love for Sophie, and
could n't rest till she discovered which was to
get the finer gift.
So she went early and slipped into the room
where the tree stood, to peep and pick a bit, as
well as to hang up a few trifles of her own. She
guessed several things by feeling the parcels;
but one excited her curiosity intensely, and she
could not resist turning it about and pulling
up one corner of the lid. It was a flat box,
prettily ornamented with sea-weeds like red
lace, and tied with scarlet ribbons. A tantalizing
glimpse of jeweller's cotton, gold clasps,
and something rose-colored conquered Di's last
scruples; and she was just about to untie the
ribbons when she heard Fanny's voice, and had
only time to replace the box, pick up a paper
that had fallen out of it, and fly up the back
stairs to the dressing-room, where she found
Sophie and Dora surveying each other as girls
always do before they go down.
"You look like a daisy," cried Di, admiring
Dora with great interest, because she felt
ashamed of her prying, and the stolen note in
"And you like a dandelion," returned Do,
falling back a step to get a good view of Di's
gold-colored dress and black velvet bows.
"Sophie is a lily of the valley, all in green
and white," added Fanny, coming in with her
own blue skirts waving in the breeze.
"It does me very well. Little girls do not
need grand toilets, and I am fine enough for a
'peasant,'" laughed Sophie, as she settled the
fresh ribbons on her simple white cashmere and
the holly wreath in her brown hair, but secretly
longing for the fine dress she might have had.
"Why didn't you wear your silver necklace?
It would be lovely on your pretty neck," said
Di, longing to know if she had given the trinket
But Sophie was not to be caught, and said
with a contented smile, "I do not care for
ornaments unless some one I love gives me them.
I had red roses for my bouquet de corsage; but
the poor Madame Page was so triste, I left them
on her table to remember her of me. It seemed
so heartless to go and dance while she had only
pain; but she wished it."
"Dear little Sophie, how good you are!"
and warm-hearted Fan kissed the blooming
face that needed no roses to make it sweet and gay.
Half an hour later, twenty girls and boys
were dancing round the brilliant tree. Then
its boughs were stripped. Every one seemed
contented; even Sophie's little gifts gave
pleasure, because with each went a merry or
affectionate verse, which made great fun on being
read aloud. She was quite loaded with pretty
things, and had no words to express her
gratitude and pleasure.
"Ah, you are all so good to me! and I have
nothing beautiful for you. I receive much and
give little, but I cannot help it! Wait a little
and I will redeem myself," she said to Fanny,
with eyes full of tears, and a lap heaped with
gay and useful things.
"Never mind that now; but look at this, for
here's still another offering of friendship, and a
very charming one, to judge by the outside,"
answered Fan, bringing the white box with the
Sophie opened it, and cries of admiration
followed, for lying on the soft cotton was a lovely
set of coral. Rosy pink branches, highly
polished and fastened with gold clasps, formed
necklace, bracelets, and a spray for the bosom.
No note or card appeared, and the girls crowded
round to admire and wonder who could have
sent so valuable a gift.
"Can't you guess, Sophie?" cried Dora,
longing to own the pretty things.
"I should believe I knew, but it is too costly.
How came the parcel, Fan? I think you must
know all," and Sophie turned the box about,
searching vainly for a name.
"An expressman left it, and Jane took off the
wet paper and put it on my table with the other
things. Here's the wrapper; do you know
that writing?" and Fan offered the brown paper
which she had kept.
"No; and the label is all mud, so I cannot
see the place. Ah, well, I shall discover some
day, but I should like to thank this generous
friend at once. See now, how fine I am! I do
myself the honor to wear them at once."
Smiling with girlish delight at her pretty
ornaments, Sophie clasped the bracelets on her
round arms, the necklace about her white throat,
and set the rosy spray in the lace on her bosom.
Then she took a little dance down the room and
found herself before Di, who was looking at her
with an expression of naughty satisfaction on
"Don't you wish you knew who sent them?"
"Indeed, yes;" and Sophie paused abruptly.
"Well, I know, and I won't tell till I like.
It's my turn to have a secret; and I mean to
"But it is not right," began Sophie, with
"Tell me yours, and I 'll tell mine," said Di,
"I will not! You have no right to touch my
gifts, and I am sure you have done it, else how
know you who sends this fine cadeau?" cried
Sophie, with the flash Di liked to see.
Here Fanny interposed, "If you have any
note or card belonging to Sophie, give it up at
once. She shall not be tormented. Out with
it, Di. I see your hand in your pocket, and
I 'm sure you have been in mischief."
"Take your old letter, then. I know what's
in it; and if I can't keep my secret for fun,
Sophie shall not have hers. That Tilly sent
the coral, and Sophie spent her hundred
dollars in books and clothes for that queer girl,
who'd better stay among her lobsters than try
to be a lady," cried Di, bent on telling all she
knew, while Sophie was reading her letter
"Is it true?" asked Dora, for the four girls
were in a corner together, and the rest of the
company busy pulling crackers.
"Just like her! I thought it was that; but
she would n't tell. Tell us now, Sophie, for I
think it was truly sweet and beautiful to help
that poor girl, and let us say hard things of
you," cried Fanny, as her friend looked up with
a face and a heart too full of happiness to help
overflowing into words.
"Yes; I will tell you now. It was foolish,
perhaps; but I did not want to be praised, and
I loved to help that good Tilly. You know she
worked all summer and made a little sum. So
glad, so proud she was, and planned to study
that she might go to school this winter. Well,
in October the uncle fell very ill, and Tilly gave
all her money for the doctors. The uncle had
been kind to her, she did not forget; she was
glad to help, and told no one but me. Then I
said, 'What better can I do with my father's gift
than give it to the dear creature, and let her lose
no time?' I do it; she will not at first, but I
write and say, 'It must be,' and she submits.
She is made neat with some little dresses, and
she goes at last, to be so happy and do so well
that I am proud of her. Is not that better than
fine toilets and rich gifts to those who need
nothing? Truly, yes! yet I confess it cost me
pain to give up my plans for Christmas, and to
seem selfish or ungrateful. Forgive me that."
"Yes, indeed, you dear generous thing!"
cried Fan and Dora, touched by the truth.
"But how came Tilly to send you such a
splendid present?" asked Di. "Should n't
think you 'd like her to spend your money in
"She did not. A sea-captain, a friend of the
uncle, gave her these lovely ornaments, and she
sends them to me with a letter that is more
precious than all the coral in the sea. I cannot
read it; but of all my gifts this is the dearest
and the best!"
Sophie had spoken eagerly, and her face, her
voice, her gestures, made the little story
eloquent; but with the last words she clasped the
letter to her bosom as if it well repaid her for
all the sacrifices she had made. They might
seem small to others, but she was sensitive and
proud, anxious to be loved in the strange
country, and fond of giving, so it cost her many tears
to seem mean and thoughtless, to go poorly
dressed, and be thought hardly of by those she
wished to please. She did not like to tell of her
own generosity, because it seemed like boasting;
and she was not sure that it had been wise to
give so much. Therefore, she waited to see
if Tilly was worthy of the trust reposed in her;
and she now found a balm for many wounds in
the loving letter that came with the beautiful
and unexpected gift.
Di listened with hot cheeks, and when Sophie
paused, she whispered regretfully,--
"Forgive me, I was wrong! I 'll keep your
gift all my life to remember you by, for you are
the best and dearest girl I know."
Then with a hasty kiss she ran away, carrying
with great care the white shell on which Sophie
had painted a dainty little picture of the
mermaids waiting for the pretty boat that brought
good fortune to poor Tilly, and this lesson to
those who were hereafter her faithful friends.