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Nettie's Valentine by Agnes Carr

 

"They are all so lovely, I hardly know which to choose," said Nettie Almer to herself, as she paused at the entrance of a large stationer's shop to gaze in at the window, where was spread a tempting display of valentines of all kinds and sizes, from the rich, expensive ones in handsome embossed boxes to the cheap penny pictures strung on a line across the entire casement.

"I want them to be the prettiest ones there," continued Nettie to herself, and she gave her little pocket-book a squeeze inside her muff as she thought of the bright two dollar and a half gold piece which Uncle John had given her that morning to spend all for valentines; for Nettie was invited that evening to a large party, given by one of her school-mates, and after supper a post-office was to be opened, through which all her class were to send valentines to each other. Great fun was anticipated, while at the same time there was considerable rivalry as to who should send the handsomest missives, and at school nothing else had been talked of amongst the scholars for a week.

"Please, miss, buy just a little bunch." The words sounded close to Nettie's ear, and she turned to encounter a pair of pleading blue eyes gazing into hers, while the plaintive voice repeated, "Please buy a little bunch of flowers; I haven't sold one to-day, and Minna wants an orange so much."

It was a pitiful little figure that stood there, with an old shawl over her head, and her feet hardly protected from the icy pavement by a pair of miserable ragged shoes, while the tiny hands, purple with cold, held a small pine board on which were fastened small bouquets of rose-buds, violets, and other flowers, which she tried to sell to the passers-by, most of whom, however, pushed her rudely aside or passed indifferently by.

"Who is Minna?" asked Nettie, gently, after a moment's survey of the little girl.

"She is mine sister, and she is so bad, so very bad, with the fever. She cried all last night with thirst, and begged me to bring her an orange to cool her tongue. Please, miss, buy some of my flowers."

Nettie's tender heart was touched, and her eyes filled with tears in sympathy with the poor child, who was now crying bitterly. "Has she been sick very long?" she asked.

"Oh yes; and the Herr Doctor says she will die if she does not have wine to strengthen her. But where could we get wine? The mother can hardly pay the rent, and I sell flowers to buy bread; but I can only make two or three cents on a bunch, and some bad days they fade before I can get rid of them; so I'm afraid Minna must die. But please give me enough to get her an orange."

"An orange! of course I will," exclaimed Nettie; "and more than one. Come with me;" and she caught the child eagerly by the hand, and drew her toward the street. At this moment, however, her eye fell on the valentines in the window, and she stopped, hesitating. Should she give up the pretty gifts for her little friends, and lose half of the evening's anticipated enjoyment, or should she let this poor girl—of whose existence she was ignorant five minutes before—go home empty-handed to her sick sister? There was an instant of sharp conflict as she thought of how mean she should appear in her school-mates' eyes, and then, with a resolute air, Nettie turned her back on the fascinating window, and conducted the little flower girl to a fruit store near at hand.

A basket was supplied by the kind-hearted proprietor of the store, to whom Nettie explained what she wanted, and this she filled with golden Havana oranges and rich clusters of white grapes—a delicious basketful for a feverish invalid. This, Nettie found, took nearly half the money, and the remainder she gave to the grocer, begging him to get her a bottle of the best sherry wine, which was quickly done, and added to the basket.

"Now," she said, turning to her poor companion, who had stood meanwhile, hardly believing the evidence of her eyes, "take me home with you, and we will carry these to Minna right away."

"Oh, miss, thou art too heavenly kind! It will save Minna; she need not die now." And with smiles chasing away the tears, the happy child took hold of one side of the basket, while Nettie carried the other, and together they wended their way to a poor tenement-house in a dark narrow street, and climbed the rickety stairs to a back room on the fourth floor.

As they pushed open the door, a low moan was heard from within, and a weak voice asked, "Gretel, is it thou? Hast thou brought the orange?"

Gretel sprang to the bedside, and in an eager voice exclaimed: "Oh, Minna, yes, yes, I have the oranges, and so much more! See this good little lady, and what she has brought thee. Look! oranges—grapes—wine! Oh, Minna, sweetheart, thou wilt soon be well now!"

The pale child, reclining among the pillows, her golden hair brushed back from a brow on which the blue veins showed painfully distinct, stretched forth a thin little hand for the grapes, and said to Nettie, "Oh, I have dreamed of fruit like this; thou art an angel to bring it to me."

Gently Nettie brushed back the fair hair of the little patient, and pressed the cool grapes to her parched lips, while Gretel poured some of the wine into a cracked tumbler, and administered it to the sick girl, who, being too weak to talk much, soon sank into a quiet, refreshing slumber, with one of Nettie's hands clasped tightly in both her own; and as Nettie sat by the humble pallet she felt fully repaid for the loss of her valentines.

And Minna still slept when the German mother entered, who, after listening to Gretel's whispered story, exclaimed, as Nettie rose to depart, and stole softly from the room: "May Gott in Himmel bless thee, young lady, for what thou hast done this day! It is weeks since my Minna has slept like that." And throwing her apron over her head, the poor woman burst into happy tears.

It was with a light heart that Nettie tripped homeward, and she never even glanced at the great window where the brilliant hearts and Cupids gleamed as gayly as ever in the bright sunlight.

"Well, Pussie, how many valentines have you bought?" asked Uncle John, meeting Nettie in the hall as she entered the house.

"Only one; but it was a very nice one, and you mustn't ask any questions," answered Nettie, with a blush, as she ran up stairs to avoid further questioning.

It was rather trying, though, when evening came, and Nettie, dressed in her white dress and blue ribbons, stood among the other girls in the dressing-room, and they all crowded round inquiring how many valentines she had for the post-office, to be obliged to confess that she had none, and to hear the whispered comments of, "How mean!" "I didn't think that of Nettie Almer."

She kept her spirits up, however, by thinking of Minna, and the joy of her mother and sister, and soon forgot the valentines entirely, while dancing and joining in the merry games with which the first part of the evening was passed.

But after supper the mortification and almost regretful feelings returned, when the other children drew forth mysterious packages, and confided them to Mrs. Hope, the mother of the young hostess; and she was becoming quite unhappy when a servant entered, saying some one wished to see Miss Nettie Almer.

Gladly she hastened from the room; but what was her surprise when a messenger handed her a box addressed to "Nettie, from St. Valentine, in return for the valentine she sent Minna and Gretel."

On removing the lid, the box was found to contain a dozen small bouquets of sweet, fragrant flowers, and a card saying they were intended as valentines for her little friends. Nettie shrewdly suspected them to be the same bouquets Gretel had tried so unavailingly to sell in the morning; but she did not know that Uncle John had been an unobserved spectator of the little episode in front of the stationer's, and that he had made a later call at the humble tenement, and gladdened the poor family a second time that day by buying all Gretel's flowers, and paying a good price for them, too.

It was with very much happier feelings that Nettie re-entered the parlor, and handed in her contribution for the letter-box; and when the office was opened in the back drawing-room, and Mr. Hope, disguised as St. Valentine, distributed the mail, all said none of the valentines could equal Nettie's, for in the centre of each bouquet was hidden a tiny golden heart, inclosing a motto appropriate to the occasion.

Nettie always said that that 14th of February was the happiest day she had ever spent; and it was also a turning-point in the fortunes of the German family, for Mrs. Almer having heard from Uncle John of her little daughter's protégés, interested some of her friends in them, who gave work to the mother, and when summer came, found a pleasant cottage on a farm for them in the country; and with the mother now happy and hopeful, Gretel well clad and rosy, and Minna quite restored to health, they were sent away from the dark, dreary tenement to a happy home among "green fields and pastures fair." And it all came about through Nettie's valentine.