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    Roses and Forget-Me-Nots

    by Louisa May Alcott
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    I

    ROSES

    It was a cold November storm, and everything looked forlorn. Even
    the pert sparrows were draggle-tailed and too much out of spirits to
    fight for crumbs with the fat pigeons who tripped through the mud
    with their little red boots as if in haste to get back to their cosy
    home in the dove-cot.

    But the most forlorn creature out that day was a small errand girl,
    with a bonnet-box on each arm, and both hands struggling to hold a
    big broken umbrella. A pair of worn-out boots let in the wet upon
    her tired feet; a thin cotton dress and an old shawl poorly
    protected her from the storm; and a faded hood covered her head.

    The face that looked out from this hood was too pale and anxious for
    one so young; and when a sudden gust turned the old umbrella inside
    out with a crash, despair fell upon poor Lizzie, and she was so
    miserable she could have sat down in the rain and cried.

    But there was no time for tears; so, dragging the dilapidated
    umbrella along, she spread her shawl over the bonnet-boxes and
    hurried down the broad street, eager to hide her misfortunes from a
    pretty young girl who stood at a window laughing at her.

    She could not find the number of the house where one of the fine
    hats was to be left; and after hunting all down one side of the
    street, she crossed over, and came at last to the very house where
    the pretty girl lived. She was no longer to be seen; and, with a
    sigh of relief, Lizzie rang the bell, and was told to wait in the
    hall while Miss Belle tried the hat on.

    Glad to rest, she warmed her feet, righted her umbrella, and then
    sat looking about her with eyes quick to see the beauty and the
    comfort that made the place so homelike and delightful. A small
    waiting-room opened from the hall, and in it stood many blooming
    plants, whose fragrance attracted Lizzie as irresistibly as if she
    had been a butterfly or bee.

    Slipping in, she stood enjoying the lovely colors, sweet odors, and
    delicate shapes of these household spirits; for Lizzie loved flowers
    passionately; and just then they possessed a peculiar charm for her.

    One particularly captivating little rose won her heart, and made her
    long for it with a longing that became a temptation too strong to
    resist. It was so perfect; so like a rosy face smiling out from the
    green leaves, that Lizzie could NOT keep her hands off it, and
    having smelt, touched, and kissed it, she suddenly broke the stem
    and hid it in her pocket. Then, frightened at what she had done, she
    crept back to her place in the hall, and sat there, burdened with
    remorse.

    A servant came just then to lead her upstairs; for Miss Belle wished
    the hat altered, and must give directions. With her heart in a
    flutter, and pinker roses in her cheeks than the one in her pocket,
    Lizzie followed to a handsome room, where a pretty girl stood before
    a long mirror with the hat in her hand.

    "Tell Madame Tifany that I don't like it at all, for she hasn't put
    in the blue plume mamma ordered; and I won't have rose-buds, they
    are so common," said the young lady, in a dissatisfied tone, as she
    twirled the hat about.

    "Yes, miss," was all Lizzie could say; for SHE considered that hat
    the loveliest thing a girl could possibly own.

    "You had better ask your mamma about it, Miss Belle, before you give
    any orders. She will be up in a few moments, and the girl can wait,"
    put in a maid, who was sewing in the ante-room.

    "I suppose I must; but I WON'T have roses," answered Belle, crossly.
    Then she glanced at Lizzie, and said more gently, "You look very
    cold; come and sit by the fire while you wait."

    "I'm afraid I'll wet the pretty rug, miss; my feet are sopping,"
    said Lizzie, gratefully, but timidly.

    "So they are! Why didn't you wear rubber boots?"

    "I haven't got any."

    "I'll give you mine, then, for I hate them; and as I never go out in
    wet weather, they are of no earthly use to me. Marie, bring them
    here; I shall be glad to get rid of them, and I'm sure they'll be
    useful to you."

    "Oh, thank you, miss! I'd like 'em ever so much, for I'm out in the
    rain half the time, and get bad colds because my boots are old,"
    said Lizzie, smiling brightly at the thought of the welcome gift.

    "I should think your mother would get you warmer things," began
    Belle, who found something rather interesting in the shabby girl,
    with shy bright eyes, and curly hair bursting out of the old hood.

    "I haven't got any mother," said Lizzie, with a pathetic glance at
    her poor clothes.

    "I'm so sorry! Have you brothers and sisters?" asked Belle, hoping
    to find something pleasant to talk about; for she was a kind little
    soul.

    "No, miss; I've got no folks at all."

    "Oh, dear; how sad! Why, who takes care of you?" cried Belle,
    looking quite distressed.

    "No one; I take care of myself. I work for Madame, and she pays me a
    dollar a week. I stay with Mrs. Brown, and chore round to pay for my
    keep. My dollar don't get many clothes, so I can't be as neat as I'd
    like." And the forlorn look came back to poor Lizzie's face.

    Belle said nothing, but sat among the sofa cushions, where she had
    thrown herself, looking soberly at this other girl, no older than
    she was, who took care of herself and was all alone in the world. It
    was a new idea to Belle, who was loved and petted as an only child
    is apt to be. She often saw beggars and pitied them, but knew very
    little about their wants and lives; so it was like turning a new
    page in her happy life to be brought so near to poverty as this
    chance meeting with the milliner's girl.

    "Aren't you afraid and lonely and unhappy?" she said, slowly,
    trying to understand and put herself in Lizzie's place.

    "Yes; but it's no use. I can't help it, and may be things will get
    better by and by, and I'll have my wish," answered Lizzie, more
    hopefully, because Belle's pity warmed her heart and made her
    troubles seem lighter.

    "What is your wish?" asked Belle, hoping mamma wouldn't come just
    yet, for she was getting interested in the stranger.

    "To have a nice little room, and make flowers, like a French girl I
    know. It's such pretty work, and she gets lots of money, for every
    one likes her flowers. She shows me how, sometimes, and I can do
    leaves first-rate; but--"

    There Lizzie stopped suddenly, and the color rushed up to her
    forehead; for she remembered the little rose in her pocket and it
    weighed upon her conscience like a stone.

    Before Belle could ask what was the matter, Marie came in with a
    tray of cake and fruit, saying:

    "Here's your lunch, Miss Belle."

    "Put it down, please; I'm not ready for it yet."

    And Belle shook her head as she glanced at Lizzie, who was staring
    hard at the fire with such a troubled face that Belle could not bear
    to see it.

    Jumping out of her nest of cushions, she heaped a plate with good
    things, and going to Lizzie, offered it, saying, with a gentle
    courtesy that made the act doubly sweet:

    "Please have some; you must be tired of waiting."

    But Lizzie could not take it; she could only cover her face and cry;
    for this kindness rent her heart and made the stolen flower a burden
    too heavy to be borne.

    "Oh, don't cry so! Are you sick? Have I been rude? Tell me all about
    it; and if I can't do anything, mamma can," said Belle, surprised
    and troubled.

    "No; I'm not sick; I'm bad, and I can't bear it when you are so good
    to me," sobbed Lizzie, quite overcome with penitence; and taking out
    the crumpled rose, she confessed her fault with many tears.

    "Don't feel so much about such a little thing as that," began Belle,
    warmly; then checked herself, and added, more soberly, "It WAS wrong
    to take it without leave; but it's all right now, and I'll give you
    as many roses as you want, for I know you are a good girl."

    "Thank you. I didn't want it only because it was pretty, but I
    wanted to copy it. I can't get any for myself, and so I can't do my
    make-believe ones well. Madame won't even lend me the old ones in
    the store, and Estelle has none to spare for me, because I can't pay
    her for teaching me. She gives me bits of muslin and wire and
    things, and shows me now and then. But I know if I had a real flower
    I could copy it; so she'd see I did know something, for I try real
    hard. I'm SO tired of slopping round the streets, I'd do anything to
    earn my living some other way."

    Lizzie had poured out her trouble rapidly; and the little story was
    quite affecting when one saw the tears on her cheeks, the poor
    clothes, and the thin hands that held the stolen rose. Belle was
    much touched, and, in her impetuous way, set about mending matters
    as fast as possible.

    "Put on those boots and that pair of dry stockings right away. Then
    tuck as much cake and fruit into your pocket as it will hold. I'm
    going to get you some flowers, and see if mamma is too busy to
    attend to me."

    With a nod and a smile, Belle flew about the room a minute; then
    vanished, leaving Lizzie to her comfortable task, feeling as if
    fairies still haunted the world as in the good old times.

    When Belle came back with a handful of roses, she found Lizzie
    absorbed in admiring contemplation of her new boots, as she ate
    sponge-cake in a blissful sort of waking-dream.

    "Mamma can't come; but I don't care about the hat. It will do very
    well, and isn't worth fussing about. There, will those be of any use
    to you?" And she offered the nosegay with a much happier face than
    the one Lizzie first saw.

    "Oh, miss, they're just lovely! I'll copy that pink rose as soon as
    ever I can, and when I've learned how to do 'em tip-top, I'd like to
    bring you some, if you don't mind," answered Lizzie, smiling all
    over her face as she buried her nose luxuriously in the fragrant
    mass.

    "I'd like it very much, for I should think you'd have to be very
    clever to make such pretty things. I really quite fancy those
    rosebuds in my hat, now I know that you're going to learn how to
    make them. Put an orange in your pocket, and the flowers in water as
    soon as you can, so they'll be fresh when you want them. Good-by.
    Bring home our hats every time and tell me how you get on."

    With kind words like these, Belle dismissed Lizzie, who ran
    downstairs, feeling as rich as if she had found a fortune. Away to
    the next place she hurried, anxious to get her errands done and the
    precious posy safely into fresh water. But Mrs. Turretviile was not
    at home, and the bonnet could not be left till paid for. So Lizzie
    turned to go down the high steps, glad that she need not wait. She
    stopped one instant to take a delicious sniff at her flowers, and
    that was the last happy moment that poor Lizzie knew for many weary
    months.

    The new boots were large for her, the steps slippery with sleet, and
    down went the little errand girl, from top to bottom, till she
    landed in the gutter directly upon Mrs. Turretville's costly bonnet.

    "I've saved my posies, anyway," sighed Lizzie, as she picked herself
    up, bruised, wet, and faint with pain; "but, oh, my heart! won't
    Madame scold when she sees that band-box smashed flat," groaned the
    poor child, sitting on the curbstone to get her breath and view the
    disaster.

    The rain poured, the wind blew, the sparrows on the park railing
    chirped derisively, and no one came along to help Lizzie out of her
    troubles. Slowly she gathered up her burdens; painfully she limped
    away in the big boots; and the last the naughty sparrows saw of her
    was a shabby little figure going round the corner, with a pale,
    tearful face held lovingly over the bright bouquet that was her one
    treasure and her only comfort in the moment which brought to her the
    great misfortune of her life.

    II

    FORGET-ME-NOTS

    "Oh, mamma, I am so relieved that the box has come at last! If it
    had not, I do believe I should have died of disappointment," cried
    pretty Belle, five years later, on the morning before her eighteenth
    birthday.

    "It would have been a serious disappointment, darling; for I had sot
    my heart on your wearing my gift to-morrow night, and when the
    steamers kept coming in without my trunk from Paris, I was very
    anxious. I hope you will like it."

    "Dear mamma, I know I shall like it; your taste is so good and you
    know what suits me so well. Make haste, Marie; I'm dying to see it,"
    said Belle, dancing about the great trunk, as the maid carefully
    unfolded tissue papers and muslin wrappers.

    A young girl's first ball-dress is a grand affair,--in her eyes, at
    least; and Belle soon stopped dancing, to stand with clasped hands,
    eager eyes and parted lips before the snowy pile of illusion that
    was at last daintily lifted out upon the bed. Then, as Marie
    displayed its loveliness, little cries of delight were heard, and
    when the whole delicate dress was arranged to the best effect she
    threw herself upon her mother's neck and actually cried with
    pleasure.

    "Mamma, it is too lovely I and you are very kind to do so much for
    me. How shall I ever thank you?"

    "By putting it right on to see if it fits; and when you wear it look
    your happiest, that I may be proud of my pretty daughter."

    Mamma got no further, for Marie uttered a French shriek, wrung her
    hands, and then began to burrow wildly in the trunk and among the
    papers, crying distractedly:

    "Great Heavens, madame! the wreath has been forgotten! What an
    affliction! Mademoiselle's enchanting toilette is destroyed without
    the wreath, and nowhere do I find it."

    In vain they searched; in vain Marie wailed and Belle declared it
    must be somewhere; no wreath appeared. It was duly set down in the
    bill, and a fine sum charged for a head-dress to match the dainty
    forget-me-nots that looped the fleecy skirts and ornamented the
    bosom of the dress. It had evidently been forgotten; and mamma
    despatched Marie at once to try and match the flowers, for Belle
    would not hear of any other decoration for her beautiful blonde
    hair.

    The dress fitted to a charm, and was pronounced by all beholders the
    loveliest thing ever seen. Nothing was wanted but the wreath to make
    it quite perfect, and when Marie returned, after a long search, with
    no forget-me-nots, Belle was in despair.

    "Wear natural ones," suggested a sympathizing friend.

    But another hunt among greenhouses was as fruitless as that among
    the milliners' rooms. No forget-me-nots could be found, and Marie
    fell exhausted into a chair, desolated at what she felt to be an
    awful calamity.

    "Let me have the carriage, and I'll ransack the city till I find
    some," cried Belle, growing more resolute with each failure.

    Marnma was deep in preparations for the ball, and could not help her
    afflicted daughter, though she was much disappointed at the mishap.
    So Belle drove off, resolved to have her flowers whether there were
    any or not.

    Any one who has ever tried to match a ribbon, find a certain fabric,
    or get anything done in a hurry, knows what a wearisome task it
    sometimes is, and can imagine Belle's state of mind after repeated
    disappointments. She was about to give up in despair, when some one
    suggested that perhaps the Frenchwoman, Estelle Valnor, might make
    the desired wreath, if there was time.

    Away drove Belle, and, on entering the room, gave a sigh of
    satisfaction, for a whole boxful of the loveliest forget-me-nots
    stood upon the table. As fast as possible, she told her tale and
    demanded the flowers, no matter what the price might be. Imagine her
    feelings when the Frenchwoman, with a shrug, announced that it was
    impossible to give mademoiselle a single spray. All were engaged to
    trim a bridesmaid's dress, and must be sent away at once.

    It really was too bad! and Belle lost her temper entirely, for no
    persuasion or bribes would win a spray from Estelle. The provoking
    part of it was that the wedding would not come off for several days,
    and there was time enough to make more flowers for that dress, since
    Belle only wanted a few for her hair. Neither would Estelle make her
    any, as her hands were full, and so small an order was not worth
    deranging one's self for; but observing Belle's sorrowful face, she
    said, affably:

    "Mademoiselle may, perhaps, find the flowers she desires at Miss
    Berton's. She has been helping me with these garlands, and may have
    some left. Here is her address."

    Belle took the card with thanks, and hurried away with a last hope
    faintly stirring in her girlish heart, for Belle had an unusually
    ardent wish to look her best at this party, since Somebody was to be
    there, and Somebody considered forget-me-nots the sweetest flowers
    in the world. Mamma knew this, and the kiss Belle gave her when the
    dress came had a more tender meaning than gratified vanity or
    daughterly love.

    Up many stairs she climbed, and came at last to a little room, very
    poor but very neat, where, at the one window, sat a young girl, with
    crutches by her side and her lap full of flower-leaves and petals.
    She rose slowly as Belle came in, and then stood looking at her,
    with such a wistful expression in her shy, bright eyes, that Belle's
    anxious face cleared involuntarily, and her voice lost its impatient
    tone.

    As she spoke, she glanced about the room, hoping to see some blue
    blossoms awaiting her. But none appeared; and she was about to
    despond again, when the girl said, gently:

    "I have none by me now, but I may be able to find you some."

    "Thank you very much; but I have been everywhere in vain. Still, if
    you do get any, please send them to me as soon as possible. Here is
    my card."

    Miss Berton glanced at it, then cast a quick look at the sweet,
    anxious face before her, and smiled so brightly that Belle smiled
    also, and asked, wonderingly:

    "What is it? What do you see?"

    "I see the dear young lady who was so kind to me long ago. You don't
    remember me, and never knew my name; but I never have forgotten you
    all these years. I always hoped I could do something to show how
    grateful I was, and now I can, for you shall have your flowers if I
    sit up all night to make them."

    But Belle still shook her head and watched the smiling face before
    her with wondering eyes, till the girl added, with sudden color in
    her cheeks:

    "Ah, you've done so many kind things in your life, you don't
    remember the little errand girl from Madame Tifany's who stole a
    rose in your hall, and how you gave her rubber boots and cake and
    flowers, and were so good to her she couldn't forget it if she lived
    to be a hundred."

    "But you are so changed," began Belle, who did faintly recollect
    that little incident in her happy life.

    "Yes, I had a fall and hurt myself so that I shall always be lame."

    And Lizzie went on to tell how Madame had dismissed her in a rage;
    how she lay ill till Mrs. Brown sent her to the hospital; and how
    for a year she had suffered much alone, in that great house of pain,
    before one of the kind visitors had befriended her.

    While hearing the story of the five years, that had been so full of
    pleasure, ease and love for herself, Belle forgot her errand, and,
    sitting beside Lizzie, listened with pitying eyes to all she told of
    her endeavors to support herself by the delicate handiwork she
    loved.

    "I'm very happy now," ended Lizzie, looking about the little bare
    room with a face full of the sweetest content. "I get nearly work
    enough to pay my way, and Estelle sends me some when she has more
    than she can do. I've learned to do it nicely, and it is so pleasant
    to sit here and make flowers instead of trudging about in the wet
    with other people's hats. Though I do sometimes wish I was able to
    trudge, one gets on so slowly with crutches."

    A little sigh followed the words, and Belle put her own plump hand
    on the delicate one that held the crutch, saying, in her cordial
    young voice:

    "I'll come and take you to drive sometimes, for you are too pale,
    and you'll get ill sitting here at work day after day. Please let
    me; I'd love to; for I feel so idle and wicked when I see busy
    people like you that I reproach myself for neglecting my duty and
    having more than my share of happiness."

    Lizzie thanked her with a look, and then said, in a tone of interest
    that was delightful to hear:

    "Tell about the wreath you want; I should so love to do it for you,
    if I can."

    Belle had forgotten all about it in listening to this sad little
    story of a girl's life. Now she felt half ashamed to talk of so
    frivolous a matter till she remembered that it would help Lizzie;
    and, resolving to pay for it as never garland was paid for before,
    she entered upon the subject with renewed interest.

    "You shall have the flowers in time for your ball to-morrow night. I
    will engage to make a wreath that will please you, only it may take
    longer than I think. Don't be troubled if I don't send it till
    evening; it will surely come in time. I can work fast, and this will
    be the happiest job I ever did," said Lizzie, beginning to lay out
    mysterious little tools and bend delicate wires.

    "You are altogether too grateful for the little I have done. It
    makes me feel ashamed to think I did not find you out before and do
    something better worth thanks."

    "Ah, it wasn't the boots or the cake or the roses, dear Miss Belle.
    It was the kind looks, the gentle words, the way it was done, that
    went right to my heart, and did me more good than a million of
    money. I never stole a pin after that day, for the little rose
    wouldn't let me forget how you forgave me so sweetly. I sometimes
    think it kept me from greater temptations, for I was a poor, forlorn
    child, with no one to keep me good."

    Pretty Belle looked prettier than ever as she listened, and a bright
    tear stood in either eye like a drop of dew on a blue flower. It
    touched her very much to learn that her little act of childish
    charity had been so sweet and helpful to this lonely girl, and now
    lived so freshly in her grateful memory. It showed her, suddenly,
    how precious little deeds of love and sympathy are; how strong to
    bless, how easy to perform, how comfortable to recall. Her heart was
    very full and tender just then, and the lesson sunk deep into it
    never to be forgotten.

    She sat a long time watching flowers bud and blossom under Lizzie's
    skilful fingers, and then hurried home to tell all her glad news to
    mamma.

    If the next day had not been full of most delightfully exciting
    events, Belle might have felt some anxiety about her wreath, for
    hour after hour went by and nothing arrived from Lizzie.

    Evening came, and all was ready. Belle was dressed, and looked so
    lovely that mamma declared she needed nothing more. But Marie
    insisted that the grand effect would be ruined without the garland
    among the sunshiny hair. Belle had time now to be anxious, and
    waited with growing impatience for the finishing touch to her
    charming toilette.

    "I must be downstairs to receive, and can't wait another moment; so
    put in the blue pompon and let me go," she said at last, with a sigh
    of disappointment, for the desire to look beautiful that night in
    Somebody's eyes had increased four-fold.

    With a tragic gesture, Marie was about to adjust the pompon when the
    quick tap of a crutch came down the hall, and Lizzie hurried in,
    flushed and breathless, but smiling happily as she uncovered the box
    she carried with a look of proud satisfaction.

    A general "Ah!" of admiration arose as Belle, mamma, and Marie
    surveyed the lovely wreath that lay before them; and when it was
    carefully arranged on the bright head that was to wear it, Belle
    blushed with pleasure. Mamma said: "It is more beautiful than any
    Paris could have sent us;" and Marie clasped her hands theatrically,
    sighing, with her head on one side:

    "Truly, yes; mademoiselle is now adorable!"

    "I am so glad you like it. I did my very best and worked all night,
    but I had to beg one spray from Estelle, or, with all my haste, I
    could not have finished in time," said Lizzie, refreshing her weary
    eyes with a long, affectionate gaze at the pretty figure before her.

    A fold of the airy skirt was caught on one of the blue clusters, and
    Lizzie knelt down to arrange it as she spoke. Belle leaned toward
    her and said softly: "Money alone can't pay you for this kindness;
    so tell me how I can best serve you. This is the happiest night of
    my life, and I want to make every one feel glad also."

    "Then don't talk of paying me, but promise that I may make the
    flowers you wear on your wedding-day," whispered Lizzie, kissing the
    kind hand held out to help her rise, for on it she saw a brilliant
    ring, and in the blooming, blushing face bent over her she read the
    tender little story that Somebody had told Belle that day.

    "So you shall! and I'll keep this wreath all my life for your sake,
    dear," answered Belle, as her full heart bubbled over with pitying
    affection for the poor girl who would never make a bridal garland
    for herself.

    Belle kept her word, even when she was in a happy home of her own;
    for out of the dead roses bloomed a friendship that brightened
    Lizzie's life; and long after the blue garland was faded Belle
    remembered the helpful little lesson that taught her to read the
    faces poverty touches with a pathetic eloquence, which says to those
    who look, "Forget-me-not."
    If you're writing a Roses and Forget-Me-Nots essay and need some advice, post your Louisa May Alcott essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

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