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    A Modern Cinderella

    by Louisa May Alcott
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    A MODERN CINDERELLA
    OR,
    THE LITTLE OLD SHOE

    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-plat 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
    Revoiution rolled that way and found them young.

    One summer morning, when the air was full of
    country sounds, of mowers in the meadow, black-
    birds by the brook, and the low of kine upon the
    hill-side, the old house wore its cheeriest aspect,
    and a certain humble history began.

    "Nan!"

    "Yes, Di."

    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 PUlled 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.

    "Nan!"

    "Yes, Laura," replied the girl, coming back
    with the third volume for the literay cormorant,
    who took it with a nod, still too content 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.

    "Little daughter!"

    "Yes, father."

    "Let me have plenty of clean collars in my
    bag, for I must go at once; 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 enough.

    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 him in.

    "I only obeyed orders, Nan; for a certain dear
    old lady had a motherly presentiment that you had
    got into a deomestic 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 he 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 spole, 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
    on 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 lot.

    "Where's Sally?" asked John, looking vainly
    for the 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 clear'; 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 inky pocket-handkerchiefs.

    "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
    Michael Angelo's, or some great creatures 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 answewr 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 variation,--

    '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 sterness,
    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 called out,--

    "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;
    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
    bobolink only sung in his cheeriest voice, "Go
    home, go home! he is there!"

    She found John--he having made a free-mason
    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 retied
    his old-fashioned neckcloth, 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. Come, Solon!"

    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 probablv 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.' Come--"

    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 bad 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 Nan's
    work-basket.

    "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 a
    big wheelbarrow, and never spilt 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
    thought of these things, and John regarded the
    battered thimble on his finger-tip 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 then
    --and then--"

    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 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 sighed
    despondingly,--

    "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 face handsome,--

    "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 that 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 good 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 destruction.

    "John, have you seen Philip since you wrote
    about your last meeting with him?

    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, piunging 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 girl 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 hope
    deferred.

    "Tell him I believe all things, hope all things,
    and that I never can forget."

    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
    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
    ruddy breast.

    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
    that 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 graceful 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 and work.

    "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 eyes 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-lofty
    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, 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 Mayflowers budded in her
    maiden heart, rosily they bloomed and silently they
    waited till some lover of such lowly 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 bluestockings and inamoratos
    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 beautiful success.

    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 to 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 of 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 throug 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 attacted 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 her grief.

    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 wistful look.

    "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
    flowers.

    "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 the public."

    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 sail.

    "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 alll 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 rapidity 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 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 hearth.'

    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
    playactin', 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 ain'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
    joy.

    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 hair-breadth
    escapes without the faintest hint of that blessed
    institution, dinner; therefore, like "Lady Letherbridge,"
    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, Philip
    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 as 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 letters 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 leaf-strewn walk.

    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 fruit 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 bent 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 tears,--

    "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
    motherly embrace.

    "Nan, Nan! here's Philip! come and see!"
    The happy call re-echoed 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 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,
    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 within himself,--

    "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 her."

    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 a 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 "to-morrow " came.

    Laura installed herself as 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 Philip's 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 through 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 realm.

    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 hand-maids, 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 floral belles.

    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 appeared in such odd frames of
    mind. John was restless, and wore an excited
    look, most unlike his usual serenity of aspect.

    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 be-
    fore, 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 the sun.

    "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 'Cinderella.'"

    "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 mien:--

    "You think I am a blind and selfish creature.
    So I am, but not 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 heart, Nan!"

    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,
    warmly,--

    "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 her.

    Then Laura looked up, saying, playfully,--

    "Here are the good and wicked sisters;-where
    shall we find the Prince? "

    "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
    finally 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 clear old souls like
    you and Nan; and some one, I know, will like and
    buy them, though they are not 'works of Shakespeare.'
    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 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 so 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 respect,--

    "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 she 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 thought 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
    wornout 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 tremulous,--

    "Will Cinderella try the little shoe, and--if
    it fits--go with the Prince?"

    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 had
    come.

    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 mv
    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
    thought of the willing feet that came and went for
    others' comfort all day long; when I saw the little
    bow you tied, I always thought of 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 or grief I
    have the power to shield you from."

    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!"
    If you're writing a A Modern Cinderella 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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