Louisa May Alcott.

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MARJORIE'S THREE GIFTS


By Louisa M. Alcott


Author of "Little Women," "Little Men," "An Old-Fashioned Girl," Etc.

BOSTON

1899





MARJORIE'S THREE GIFTS


Marjorie sat on the door-step, shelling peas, quite unconscious what
a pretty picture she made, with the roses peeping at her through the
lattice work of the porch, the wind playing hide-and-seek in her curly
hair, while the sunshine with its silent magic changed her faded gingham
to a golden gown, and shimmered on the bright tin pan as if it were a
silver shield. Old Rover lay at her feet, the white kitten purred on her
shoulder, and friendly robins hopped about her in the grass, chirping "A
happy birthday, Marjorie!"

But the little maid neither saw nor heard, for her eyes were fixed on
the green pods, and her thoughts were far away. She was recalling the
fairy-tale granny told her last night, and wishing with all her heart
that such things happened nowadays. For in this story, as a poor girl
like herself sat spinning before the door, a Brownie came by, and gave
the child a good-luck penny; then a fairy passed, and left a talisman
which would keep her always happy; and last of all, the prince rolled
up in his chariot, and took her away to reign with him over a lovely
kingdom, as a reward for her many kindnesses to others.

When Marjorie imagined this part of the story, it was impossible to help
giving one little sigh, and for a minute she forgot her work, so busy
was she thinking what beautiful presents she would give to all the poor
children in her realm when THEY had birthdays. Five impatient young peas
took this opportunity to escape from the half-open pod in her hand and
skip down the steps, to be immediately gobbled up by an audacious robin,
who gave thanks in such a shrill chirp that Marjorie woke up, laughed,
and fell to work again. She was just finishing, when a voice called out
from the lane, -

"Hi, there! come here a minute, child!" and looking up, she saw a little
old man in a queer little carriage drawn by a fat little pony.

Running down to the gate, Marjorie dropped a curtsy, saying
pleasantly, -

"What did you wish, sir?"

"Just undo that check-rein for me. I am lame, and Jack wants to drink
at your brook," answered the old man, nodding at her till his spectacles
danced on his nose.

Marjorie was rather afraid of the fat pony, who tossed his head, whisked
his tail, and stamped his feet as if he was of a peppery temper. But she
liked to be useful, and just then felt as if there were few things she
could NOT do if she tried, because it was her birthday. So she proudly
let down the rein, and when Jack went splashing into the brook, she
stood on the bridge, waiting to check him up again after he had drunk
his fill of the clear, cool water.

The old gentleman sat in his place, looking up at the little girl, who
was smiling to herself as she watched the blue dragon-flies dance among
the ferns, a blackbird tilt on the alderboughs, and listened to the
babble of the brook.

"How old are you, child?" asked the old man, as if he rather envied this
rosy creature her youth and health.

"Twelve to-day, sir;" and Marjorie stood up straight and tall, as if
mindful of her years.

"Had any presents?" asked the old man, peering up with an odd smile.

"One, sir, - here it is;" and she pulled out of her pocket a tin
savings-bank in the shape of a desirable family mansion, painted red,
with a green door and black chimney. Proudly displaying it on the rude
railing of the bridge, she added, with a happy face, -

"Granny gave it to me, and all the money in it is going to be mine."

"How much have you got?" asked the old gentleman, who appeared to like
to sit there in the middle of the brook, while Jack bathed his feet and
leisurely gurgled and sneezed.

"Not a penny yet, but I'm going to earn some," answered Marjorie,
patting the little bank with an air of resolution pretty to see.

"How will you do it?" continued the inquisitive old man.

"Oh, I'm going to pick berries and dig dandelions, and weed, and drive
cows, and do chores. It is vacation, and I can work all the time, and
earn ever so much."

"But vacation is play-time, - how about that?"

"Why, that sort of work IS play, and I get bits of fun all along. I
always have a good swing when I go for the cows, and pick flowers with
the dandelions. Weeding isn't so nice, but berrying is very pleasant,
and we have good times all together."

"What shall you do with your money when you get it?"

"Oh, lots of things! Buy books and clothes for school, and, if I get a
great deal, give some to granny. I'd love to do that, for she takes care
of me, and I'd be so proud to help her!"

"Good little lass!" said the old gentleman, as he put his hand in his
pocket. "Would you now?" he added, apparently addressing himself to a
large frog who sat upon a stone, looking so wise and grandfatherly that
it really did seem quite proper to consult him. At all events, he gave
his opinion in the most decided manner, for, with a loud croak, he
turned an undignified somersault into the brook, splashing up the
water at a great rate. "Well, perhaps it wouldn't be best on the whole.
Industry is a good teacher, and money cannot buy happiness, as I know to
my sorrow."

The old gentleman still seemed to be talking to the frog, and as he
spoke he took his hand out of his pocket with less in it than he had at
first intended.

"What a very queer person!" thought Marjorie, for she had not heard a
word, and wondered what he was thinking about down there.

Jack walked out of the brook just then, and she ran to check him up; not
an easy task for little hands, as he preferred to nibble the grass
on the bank. But she did it cleverly, smoothed the ruffled mane, and,
dropping another curtsy, stood aside to let the little carriage pass.

"Thank you, child - thank you. Here is something for your bank, and good
luck to it."

As he spoke, the old man laid a bright gold dollar in her hand, patted
the rosy cheek, and vanished in a cloud of dust, leaving Marjorie so
astonished at the grandeur of the gift, that she stood looking at it
as if it had been a fortune. It was to her; and visions of pink calico
gowns, new grammars, and fresh hat-ribbons danced through her head in
delightful confusion, as her eyes rested on the shining coin in her
palm.

Then, with a solemn air, she invested her first money by popping it down
the chimney of the scarlet mansion, and peeping in with one eye to see
if it landed safely on the ground-floor. This done, she took a long
breath, and looked over the railing, to be sure it was not all a dream.
No; the wheel marks were still there, the brown water was not yet clear,
and, if a witness was needed, there sat the big frog again, looking so
like the old gentleman, with his bottle-green coat, speckled trousers,
and twinkling eyes, that Marjorie burst out laughing, and clapped her
hands, saying aloud, -

"I'll play he was the Brownie, and this is the good-luck penny he gave
me. Oh, what fun!" and away she skipped, rattling the dear new bank like
a castanet.

When she had told granny all about it, she got knife and basket, and
went out to dig dandelions; for the desire to increase her fortune was
so strong, she could not rest a minute. Up and down she went, so busily
peering and digging, that she never lifted up her eyes till something
like a great white bird skimmed by so low she could not help seeing
it. A pleasant laugh sounded behind her as she started up, and, looking
round, she nearly sat down again in sheer surprise, for there close by
was a slender little lady, comfortably established under a big umbrella.

"If there WERE any fairies, I'd be sure that was one," thought Marjorie,
staring with all her might, for her mind was still full of the old
story; and curious things do happen on birthdays, as every one knows.

It really did seem rather elfish to look up suddenly and see a lovely
lady all in white, with shining hair and a wand in her hand, sitting
under what looked very like a large yellow mushroom in the middle of
a meadow, where, till now, nothing but cows and grasshoppers had been
seen. Before Marjorie could decide the question, the pleasant laugh came
again, and the stranger said, pointing to the white thing that was still
fluttering over the grass like a little cloud, -

"Would you kindly catch my hat for me, before it blows quite away?"

Down went basket and knife, and away ran Marjorie, entirely satisfied
now that there was no magic about the new-comer; for if she had been an
elf, couldn't she have got her hat without any help from a mortal child?
Presently, however, it did begin to seem as if that hat was bewitched,
for it led the nimble-footed Marjorie such a chase that the cows stopped
feeding to look on in placid wonder; the grasshoppers vainly tried to
keep up, and every ox-eye daisy did its best to catch the runaway, but
failed entirely, for the wind liked a game of romps, and had it that
day. As she ran, Marjorie heard the lady singing, like the princess in
the story of the Goose-Girl, -

"Blow, breezes, blow!
Let Curdkin's hat go!
Blow, breezes, blow!
Let him after it go!
O'er hills, dales and rocks,
Away be it whirled,
Till the silvery locks
Are all combed and curled."

This made her laugh so that she tumbled into a clover-bed, and lay there
a minute to get her breath. Just then, as if the playful wind
repented of its frolic, the long veil fastened to the hat caught in a
blackberry-vine near by, and held the truant fast till Marjorie secured
it.

"Now come and see what I am doing," said the lady, when she had thanked
the child.

Marjorie drew near confidingly, and looked down at the wide-spread book
before her. She gave a start, and laughed out with surprise and delight;
for there was a lovely picture of her own little home, and her own
little self on the door-step, all so delicate, and beautiful, and true,
it seemed as if done by magic.

"Oh, how pretty! There is Rover, and Kitty and the robins, and me! How
could you ever do it, ma'am?" said Marjorie, with a wondering glance
at the long paint-brush, which had wrought what seemed a miracle to her
childish eyes.

"I'll show you presently; but tell me, first, if it looks quite right
and natural to you. Children sometimes spy out faults that no one else
can see," answered the lady, evidently pleased with the artless praise
her work received.

"It looks just like our house, only more beautiful. Perhaps that is
because I know how shabby it really is. That moss looks lovely on the
shingles, but the roof leaks. The porch is broken, only the roses hide
the place; and my gown is all faded, though it once was as bright as you
have made it. I wish the house and everything would stay pretty forever,
as they will in the picture."

While Marjorie spoke, the lady had been adding more color to the sketch,
and when she looked up, something warmer and brighter than sunshine
shone in her face, as she said, so cheerily, it was like a bird's song
to hear her, -

"It can't be summer always, dear, but we can make fair weather for
ourselves if we try. The moss, the roses, and soft shadows show the
little house and the little girl at their best, and that is what we all
should do; for it is amazing how lovely common things become, if one
only knows how to look at them."

"I wish _I_ did," said Marjorie, half to herself, remembering how often
she was discontented, and how hard it was to get on, sometimes.

"So do I," said the lady, in her happy voice. "Just believe that there
is a sunny side to everything, and try to find it, and you will be
surprised to see how bright the world will seem, and how cheerful you
will be able to keep your little self."

"I guess granny has found that out, for she never frets. I do, but I'm
going to stop it, because I'm twelve to-day, and that is too old for
such things," said Marjorie, recollecting the good resolutions she had
made that morning when she woke.

"I am twice twelve, and not entirely cured yet; but I try, and don't
mean to wear blue spectacles if I can help it," answered the lady,
laughing so blithely that Marjorie was sure she would not have to try
much longer. "Birthdays were made for presents, and I should like to
give you one. Would it please you to have this little picture?" she
added, lifting it out of the book.

"Truly my own? Oh, yes, indeed!" cried Marjorie, coloring with pleasure,
for she had never owned so beautiful a thing before.

"Then you shall have it, dear. Hang it where you can see it often, and
when you look, remember that it is the sunny side of home, and help to
keep it so."

Marjorie had nothing but a kiss to offer by way of thanks, as the lovely
sketch was put into her hand; but the giver seemed quite satisfied, for
it was a very grateful little kiss. Then the child took up her basket
and went away, not dancing and singing now, but slowly and silently; for
this gift made her thoughtful as well as glad. As she climbed the wall,
she looked back to nod good-by to the pretty lady; but the meadow was
empty, and all she saw was the grass blowing in the wind.

"Now, deary, run out and play, for birthdays come but once a year,
and we must make them as merry as we can," said granny, as she settled
herself for her afternoon nap, when the Saturday cleaning was all done,
and the little house as neat as wax.

So Marjorie put on a white apron in honor of the occasion, and, taking
Kitty in her arms, went out to enjoy herself. Three swings on the gate
seemed to be a good way of beginning the festivities; but she only got
two, for when the gate creaked back the second time, it stayed shut, and
Marjorie hung over the pickets, arrested by the sound of music.

"It's soldiers," she said, as the fife and drum drew nearer, and flags
were seen waving over the barberry-bushes at the corner.

"No; it's a picnic," she added in a moment; for she saw hats with
wreaths about them bobbing up and down, as a gayly-trimmed hay-cart full
of children came rumbling down the lane.

"What a nice time they are going to have!" thought Marjorie, sadly
contrasting that merry-making with the quiet party she was having all by
herself.

Suddenly her face shone, and Kitty was waved over her head like a
banner, as she flew out of the gate, crying, rapturously, -

"It's Billy! and I know he's come for me!"

It certainly WAS Billy, proudly driving the old horse, and beaming at
his little friend from the bower of flags and chestnut-boughs, where he
sat in state, with a crown of daisies on his sailor-hat and a spray of
blooming sweetbrier in his hand. Waving his rustic sceptre, he led off
the shout of "Happy birthday, Marjorie!" which was set up as the wagon
stopped at the gate, and the green boughs suddenly blossomed with
familiar faces, all smiling on the little damsel, who stood in the lane
quite overpowered with delight.

"It's a s'prise party!" cried one small lad, tumbling out behind.

"We are going up the mountain to have fun!" added a chorus of voices, as
a dozen hands beckoned wildly.

"We got it up on purpose for you, so tie your hat and come away," said
a pretty girl, leaning down to kiss Marjorie, who had dropped Kitty, and
stood ready for any splendid enterprise.

A word to granny, and away went the happy child, sitting up beside
Billy, under the flags that waved over a happier load than any royal
chariot ever bore.

It would be vain to try and tell all the plays and pleasures of happy
children on a Saturday afternoon, but we may briefly say that Marjorie
found a mossy stone all ready for her throne, and Billy crowned her with
a garland like his own. That a fine banquet was spread, and eaten with
a relish many a Lord Mayor's feast has lacked. Then how the whole court
danced and played together afterward! The lords climbed trees and turned
somersaults, the ladies gathered flowers and told secrets under the
sweetfern-bushes, the queen lost her shoe jumping over the waterfall,
and the king paddled into the pool below and rescued it. A happy little
kingdom, full of summer sunshine, innocent delights, and loyal hearts;
for love ruled, and the only war that disturbed the peaceful land was
waged by the mosquitoes as night came on.

Marjorie stood on her throne watching the sunset while her maids of
honor packed up the remains of the banquet, and her knights prepared
the chariot. All the sky was gold and purple, all the world bathed in a
soft, red light, and the little girl was very happy as she looked down
at the subjects who had served her so faithfully that day.

"Have you had a good time, Marjy?" asked King William; who stood below,
with his royal nose on a level with her majesty's two dusty little
shoes.

"Oh, Billy, it has been just splendid! But I don't see why you should
all be so kind to me," answered Marjorie, with such a look of innocent
wonder, that Billy laughed to see it.

"Because you are so sweet and good, we can't help loving you, - that's
why," he said, as if this simple fact was reason enough.

"I'm going to be the best girl that ever was, and love everybody in the
world," cried the child, stretching out her arms as if ready, in the
fulness of her happy heart, to embrace all creation.

"Don't turn into an angel and fly away just yet, but come home, or
granny will never lend you to us any more."

With that, Billy jumped her down, and away they ran, to ride gayly back
through the twilight, singing like a flock of nightingales.

As she went to bed that night, Marjorie looked at the red bank, the
pretty picture, and the daisy crown, saying to herself, -

"It has been a VERY nice birthday, and I am something like the girl in
the story, after all, for the old man gave me a good-luck penny, the
kind lady told me how to keep happy, and Billy came for me like the
prince. The girl didn't go back to the poor house again, but I'm glad
_I_ did, for MY granny isn't a cross one, and my little home is the
dearest in the world."

Then she tied her night-cap, said her prayers, and fell asleep; but the
moon, looking in to kiss the blooming face upon the pillow, knew that
three good spirits had come to help little Marjorie from that day forth,
and their names were Industry, Cheerfulness, and Love.





ROSES AND FORGET-ME-NOTS




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 - "


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