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