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One Touch of Nature by Mrs. W. J. Hays

Author of "The Princess Idleways."

Mrs. Douglas was looking over her shopping list, and Lily Douglas was looking over her mother's shoulder. The Christmas Charity Fair was so soon to be held that Mrs. Douglas had a world of business to attend to, for of course her table must be full of pretty things suitable for the season. She was going out this morning to finish all her purchases, and Lily had been promised a corner of the carriage if she would be as quiet as she knew how to be, and not take cold. This was joyfully acceded to, for with all the glories of the shops to look at, could she not be still? and with her new velvet cloak and warm furs, how could she take cold?

So she bounced into the brougham after her mother, and curled herself into the smallest possible space, that there might be room for all the packages. Such smiling brown eyes under sweeping lashes looked up at the sky as she wished for snow, and so warm a little heart beat under the velvet and furs as the brougham rolled down the street, that more than one passer-by gave her smiles in return. They had not long been out when the snow came indeed, as if just to oblige the little maiden; first in a sulky, slow way, then taking a start as if it were in earnest, down came the feathery flakes.

"Oh, mamma," she cried, "aren't you glad? Just look at the lovely, lovely snow!"

"Yes," said mamma, abstractedly, reading off her list; "one dozen decorated candles; three screens, gilt; six lace tidies; fifteen yards blue ribbon; dolls—oh, Lily, I have forgotten the dolls, and I must have them in time to dress them. Knock on the window, and tell Patrick to turn down town again; but I am afraid the snow will be deep before we can get home."

"So much the better, mamma," exclaimed Lily. "Oh, I am so glad it has come!"

Mamma smiled back at her little girl's radiant look, as she said, "What will all the little poor children do?"

"Do?" answered Lily; "why, they will sweep the walks—look! there they are now. What fun! I wish I had a broom, and a tin cup for pennies."

Mamma could have preached a little, but she refrained. She did not even venture to call to Lily's notice the pinched and blue noses and the chapped hands of the little army of sweepers which had so suddenly appeared.

The brougham stopped at her signal, and Mrs. Douglas went into an immense toy-shop, while Lily watched the movements of a little girl who had attracted her. The child was thin and pale; an old ragged sacque was her only outer garment, and the sleeves were so short that half her arms were exposed; on her head was an old untrimmed straw hat; on her feet shoes large enough for a woman; a faded bit of cotton cloth was twisted about her neck; in her hand was a broom, made of a bundle of sticks, such as street-sweepers use. She would make a hasty dash at the snow, and then, as if struggling between duty and pleasure, would rush from her sweeping to the shop window, and gaze with an eager and fascinated intentness at the toys within. Lily looked at her until she became tired; then, impatient of restraint, she jumped out of the carriage, and went into the shop after her mother; but Mrs. Douglas was down at the end of the counter, surrounded by people, and in front of Lily, near the door, was a basket of dolls gazing up at her with bewitchingly inviting glances. She began to name them—Jessie, Matilda, Clarissa, Marguerite, Cleopatra—no, she concluded, she wouldn't have Cleopatra. What should this other darling be named?—Rosamond.

"Do you think Rosamond a pretty name?" said a timid little voice near her. It came from the girl she had watched from the carriage window.

"Well, not very," answered Lily; "but you see I have such a large family that I don't know what to call them all. What name do you like best?"

"Oh, I like almost anything—something short and sweet for such beauties. Ain't they lovely? and are they all really yours?"

"I'm playing they are mine, and that I keep an orphan asylum. Don't you want to be a nurse?"

"Oh, if you'd let me!—but I'm too dirty."

"No matter for that. See how the darlings smile at you. I mean to ask mamma to buy them all. See, I can get one in my muff: she goes in beautifully."

"So she does; but I like the one that's asleep best. She's awful cunning. Have they any teeth, and real hair?"

"They are just cutting their teeth, and that's the reason I want a good nurse; they are so troublesome. They haven't much hair, just a little bang under their caps."

"A little what?"

"Their hair is banged like mine—don't you see?—out short right across their foreheads, so it don't come in their eyes: that is Charles the First style—so my aunt Tilly says."

"Oh, how I wish I had just one doll!"

"Haven't you one?"

"No; she's worn out. She was only rags to begin with, and now she's nothing, since Pete Smith tossed her in the mud-puddle."

"That was just as hateful as it could be."

"Yes. I cried all night—more than I did when father died, because, you see, he never did nothing but tell me to get out of the way, and go and earn money for him to spend in drink. But my dolly used to love me, and I loved her, and I always had her with me at night, and I told her stories, and played she was a queen."

"A queen! how funny!"

"I don't think so. Every ribbon I could get I dressed her in it, and once I found some beads which looked just like the things you see at the jewellers', and I put them on her, and she was grand; but Pete Smith took them off when he chucked her into the mud, and now she's good for nothing."

"Little girl, what are you doing here?" suddenly said a stern voice, and Lily's acquaintance shot like an arrow from a bow, and began plying vigorously her broom. Mrs. Douglas, too, came up at that moment, and pricing the dolls, ordered them to be sent to her.

"Mamma," said Lily, softly, "may I have just this one?"—showing her muff, into which she had stuffed the coveted article.

"Lily dear, you don't want any more dolls, surely."

"Yes, mamma, just this one."

"Well, take it, child, though I really think it is foolish, when you have so many."

Mrs. Douglas got into her carriage again, and Lily jumped in too. The little sweeper looked wistfully after them; but the snow was becoming more and more in the way of pedestrians, and she had to work hard to clear the crossing.

A few days after this the Fair was opened, and Mrs. Douglas, at Lily's request, placed the basket of dolls, which now were glittering in pink and blue gauze, in the very centre of her table. Every day Lily went with her mother to the Fair, but never without the one doll, her mother's latest gift, in her arms. Out of all her stock of clothing she had dressed it in the very prettiest little frock she could find, and wrapped it in a merino cloak. It was noticed that whenever she was in the street she seemed to be looking for some one, and every time the carriage went down town Lily insisted upon going too.

One morning, to her aunt Tilly's surprise, as they rolled through the still snow-covered streets, Lily shrieked out, "Oh, there she is! there she is! Please, Aunt Tilly, let me get out."

Her aunt being good-natured, and supposing that the child saw one of her companions, stopped the brougham, and away Lily ran. To the aunt's horror, she saw Lily rush up to a dirty poor little creature sweeping the crossing. Taking the doll she so faithfully carried every day out of her arms, she put it in the little street-sweeper's ready embrace with a most affectionate manner.

"There," she said, "I have been watching for you every day, and I have dressed this dear thing all for you; and don't you let Pete Smith throw her in the mud-puddle."

The little sweeper gazed at her as if she were an angel of light, hardly daring to touch the infant beauty committed to her care.

"And now," said Lily, dragging the girl up to the carriage door, for the child was abashed and reluctant, "you shall come to the Fair, and see our other beauties: come. Please let her, Aunt Tilly; she never has seen anything so lovely before."

How could Aunt Tilly refuse? Side by side with the velvet and furs were the poor tattered garments of the little sweeper. Side by side were the two child faces, one so rosy and radiant, the other so pale and care-worn; and the brougham rolled them both to the Fair.

Exultingly Lily took the child up to her mother's table, proudly pointing out all its wonderful wealth; but when they both bent over the basket of dolls that they had played with at the shop door that wintry morning, and both little pairs of eyes sparkled to behold the increased beauty of their charms, they forgot everything else, and touchingly discussed the merits of each dear doll as if they had been two little mothers in a nursery.

A passer-by said to Mrs. Douglas, as he noticed the contrast in the children's appearance, "'One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.'"

"Yes," nodded Mrs. Douglas, in reply; and she resolved that Lily's little acquaintance should have not only a doll, but plenty of good warm clothing, and herself for a friend.