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busy fingers would, she feared, be sure to fasten themselves upon the
hidden box. But she dared not follow the boys upstairs, for it would
seem strange if she left Maggie and Bessie, and her doing so might
excite questions.

Oh that she had never touched the mice, or had at once obeyed Nellie's
directions respecting them, which Carrie's conscience told her now, as
it had at the time, was the same as if her mother had given them!

"Nellie and Carrie," said Maggie, "what do you think we are doing,
Bessie and I?"

"We don't know. What?" said Nellie.

"Guess," answered Maggie.

"Oh! I'm not good at guessing," said Nellie, smiling. "I never guessed
any thing or answered a conundrum in my life, except some of Daisy's;"
and she drew her arm closer about the pensive little mortal at her
side.

Daisy's conundrums were many and various, some so very transparent
that she might as well have given the answer with the question, others
so extremely bewildering that Oedipus himself could scarcely have
unravelled their meaning; and it was in these last that she gloried,
always feeling rather aggrieved if any one gave the right answer.

"She gave a conundrum last night that none of us could guess,"
continued Nellie, wishing to amuse and interest her little sister. "See
if Maggie and Bessie can guess it now, Daisy."

Daisy aroused a little from her melancholy, and said in a plaintive
voice, -

"Why don't a pig wif a ni'gown on him want to go to the kitchen fire?"

Maggie and Bessie gave up at once, knowing that this would be Daisy's
preference; besides being really quite at a loss to understand why
a pig in such unusual attire should shun that particular spot, "the
kitchen fire."

"Because he's af'aid he'll burn his ni'gown," said Daisy, when she was
called upon for the answer, which Maggie and Bessie pronounced "very
good;" and, being encouraged by her success, the pitiful little damsel
put forth another conundrum, having reference to the subject which was
weighing so heavily on her mind.

"Here's anofer one," she said: "Why don't white mice like to live in
the garden-house?"

"Because they are afraid the black cat will eat them," said Carrie,
less mindful of her sister's prejudices than Maggie and Bessie had been.

"Now, why did you guess it so soon?" said the affronted Daisy; and this
proving the drop too much in the already overflowing cup, her head went
down in Nellie's lap, and she resigned herself to tears once more.

None of the other children dreamed of the chief trouble which was
weighing on her little heart; but her misfortunes of the afternoon
were considered so serious that no one thought it at all strange that
she should be in a melancholy state of mind. Still, silent sympathy,
at present, seemed the best to Nellie, and she contented herself with
softly caressing the bent head, and checked the others with uplifted
finger when they would have cheered Daisy with spoken words.

"Talk about something else," she spelled out in the sign alphabet, and
then asked aloud, -

"What is it you and Bessie are doing, Maggie?"

"Making such lovely Christmas presents for mamma," answered Maggie.

"What! already?" said Carrie.

"Yes," said Maggie, "because it will take us so long to work it, and we
have lots besides to do. And then some dreadful accident might happen
to us to prevent our finishing it, you know, like Sir Percy nearly
putting out Lily Norris' eye; so it's best to take time by the forelock
at once, even if it is only July."

"What are you making?" asked Nellie.

"A pair of brackets, the loveliest things," answered Maggie, with
emphasis. "Bessie is filling up one, and I the other."

"And we are going to have them made up ourselves, quite ourselves, out
of our own money," said Bessie. "Nellie, why wouldn't you like to make
something for your mamma of your own work? You can do worsted work so
very nicely."

"I would like to very much," said Nellie. "And I have some money of my
own that I could use."

"I shall do it too," said Carrie.

"If you would like to do the same thing that we are doing," said
Maggie, "Mrs. Finkenstadt has another pair of brackets nearly like
ours, and at the same price. They are very pretty."

"But I'm afraid" - began Nellie, then paused.

"Not that you don't know how," said Maggie; "why, Nellie, every one
knows you work better than any of us."

"I was thinking if I would have time enough," said Nellie, "now that I
am mamma's housekeeper. It takes up a good deal of time; and then - and
then" -

"Oh! it's your old books," said Carrie. "I should think you might be
willing to give them up to make something pretty for mamma. If you
didn't study so much more than any of the other girls, you could do it
very well. I think you might make one; for then I could do the other,
if you would show me how."

"I'll show you how and help you all I can," said Nellie, "but I do not
think I shall try to do one myself. And it's not because of my studies,
Carrie, but for another reason that I'd rather not tell."

"Mamma would just as lief let you give up being her housekeeper if you
want to do something else for her," said Carrie.

"I don't want her to," answered Nellie, "for - I do believe I am of use
to mamma, and I would not like to put that off for something that is
not necessary. Besides, I have still another reason."

"I'm sure I think it seems a great deal more to make a lovely Christmas
present for mamma than to do housekeeping for her. I believe she'd
rather," said Carrie.

"I don't believe so," answered Nellie.

"And, Carrie," said Maggie, "very often in this world we have to put
up with appearances being deceitful, and with knowing not only that
'all is not gold that glitters,' but also that some very true gold does
not glitter at all; and Nellie's private reason may be very true gold,
indeed, without our seeing it glitter. Besides, mamma says Nellie is
one of the most sensible little girls she ever saw; and I believe she
is a case of 'old head on young shoulders,' so we may as well think
that she is wise and right until we know differently."

Maggie's fine speech, overflowing as it was with proverbs, silenced
Carrie, as her wise sayings did usually silence her companions, who did
not command such a flow of ideas and language; and Nellie gave her a
grateful look.

"Here's mamma in the carriage to take out your mamma," said Bessie; and
the attention of the children was for the moment diverted from their
own affairs.

"Will you go and drive too, Daisy?" said Mrs. Bradford.

"No, fank you, ma'am," answered Daisy, much to the astonishment of
the other children, as she raised her woe-begone little face from its
resting-place. For Daisy was generally very ready for a drive, or for
an outing of any kind.

But now to all their persuasions, to all their expressions of surprise,
she remained perfectly immovable, only blinking her eyes very hard,
pursing up her rosy lips, and shaking her head, in the most deplorable
manner possible.

But the cause of this came out when Mrs. Bradford and Mrs. Ransom had
gone; for as the carriage drove away the boys came running downstairs
and out upon the piazza.

"Now your white mice will be all safe, Daisy," said Frankie; "me and
Johnny and Bob have made the first-ratest place for them up in the
garret. I'd like to see that old cat finding them up there. Come and
see how nice it is."

"It's no matter about it," said Daisy. "You're all very good, and I'm
very obliged to you; but I wouldn't feel to keep my mice up in the
garret."

"What are you going to do with them then?" asked Johnny.

"I couldn't have 'em in the house when mamma feels so about it," said
Daisy, choking back a sob, and trying to be very brave.

"She said you could," said Bob.

"Yes, I know she did," answered Daisy; "but she don't like it, I know
she don't, and so I'm going to give 'em back to Frankie."

"But, Daisy" - began Johnny.

"No, no," said Daisy, putting out a little hand to stop him, "don't
speak to me about it, Johnny, 'cause I do feel so very bad, then maybe
I wouldn't; and I should fink a little girl who wouldn't rafer please
her mamma than to have white mice must be the naughtiest little girl
in the world."

"You dear little thing!" exclaimed Maggie.

"I don't believe mamma would care at all so long as she never saw
them," said Bob; "do you, Nellie?"

Nellie hesitated.

"I do think she would _care_," she answered reluctantly, for Daisy's
wistful eyes were raised to her face, as if hoping for an encouraging
answer; "but she has made up her mind to bear it for Daisy's sake."

"But I don't want her to do any more sake for me," sighed Daisy. "I'd
better do sake for her, I should fink; and please don't speak any more
about it, children. I'd like to have 'em to play wif down here till
mamma comes home; and then I'll give 'em back to Frankie for ever an'
ever an' ever. That was why I wouldn't go and drive, so I could say
good by to 'em."

Nellie did not oppose her self-sacrificing resolution, hard as she knew
it was for the child; for she was sure that her mamma would never feel
easy while the creatures were in the house, and she was sure also that
in some way she would make it up to Daisy.

Not that Daisy had any such idea. No, in giving up her mice she did it
without any thought of payment, only to save mamma from annoyance and
discomfort, a great and generous sacrifice for such a little child;
for Daisy was but five years old, you must remember; and this showed
thought and consideration worthy of a much older person. But then
Daisy always had been remarkable for her tender, clinging love for her
mother, and her earnest desire to please her in all things.

It struck all the other children; and they overwhelmed her with
caresses and expressions of admiration and affection; even bluff Bob,
who seldom condescended to bestow much flattering notice upon his
sisters, declaring, -

"Well, you are a little brick, Daisy."

It was pleasant to be so petted and admired, for Daisy dearly loved
praise, and in all this she found consolation, and began to put on
little airs and graces befitting a heroine.

Dear little lamb! who would quarrel with her if she did?

How hard it went with her might be seen by the working of the sweet
face, the pitiful pressure of the tiny hands one against the other, the
swimming eyes and choking voice.

It was too much for Carrie.

The contrast between her own conduct and that of her little sister was
more than her uneasy conscience could bear; secret remorse and shame
overwhelmed her, and with a quick resolve to be "as good as Daisy," and
sacrifice her own wishes to her mother's prejudices, she slipped away
from the other children, and ran upstairs, determined to put the gray
mice out of the way.

[Illustration]




[Illustration]




IX.

_MAKING GINGER-CAKES._


BUT how?

Ah! there it was. That which would have been easy and simple enough in
the beginning, had she but done as she should, and taken the mice at
once to the cook, was now a great trouble and difficulty.

For if she took them to Catherine now, the cook would ask where she had
found them, and put other questions which she would not wish to answer;
for that would involve a confession she had no mind to make, penitent
though she was, or thought herself.

And how was she to put the mice out of the way herself? She could not
tell what to do with them. Should she carry the box off somewhere, away
to the woods or down on the shore, and let the mice out there?

But then again, if she did this, she must leave the other children,
her little guests Maggie and Bessie, too; and this would excite wonder
and curiosity; more than that, she was not allowed to go out of their
own grounds alone. She might perhaps hide them in the garden-house
if she could but contrive to escape the eyes of her companions for a
few moments, but no, the black cat might return in search of Daisy's
pets, and her own fall victims to the creature. No, that plan would
never answer; but what should she do? Oh! if she only had known
beforehand what trouble and unhappiness her momentary disobedience and
deceit would bring upon her, she would never, never have yielded to
temptation, and hidden the mice. Why had she not taken time to think
about all this?

Ah, Carrie, there it is. If we only knew beforehand, if we only could
foresee the consequences of our wrong-doing, the misery and punishment
we shall bring upon ourselves, perhaps upon others, how careful
it would make us to avoid the sin! But the pleasure comes first,
the punishment after, when it is too late; and nothing is left but
repentance and regret.

Carrie had run up to the garret once more, hastily taken the box from
its hiding-place, and brought it down to the room next her mother's,
which she and Nellie shared. There she stood now, a most unhappy little
girl, as such thoughts as these chased one another through her mind,
trying to think of some plan for ridding herself of the mice, but
obliged to reject first one and then another.

What was she to do?

She was in dread this very moment lest the other children should come
upstairs and find her there with her dreadful secret; yes, it was
dreadful to Carrie now; and she felt almost angry at the innocent
little mice.

You have all heard of the unhappy man who was very anxious to have an
elephant, and at last won one in a raffle; but the moment it was his
own he did not know what to do with it, and would have been glad to
have some one take it off his hands. Those mice were as bad as so many
elephants to poor Carrie, and oh, how she wished that she had never
seen them! _Seen_ them! She had not even done that! Only _heard_ them
as they rustled in their prison-house; not very satisfactory payment
certainly for all the pain and trouble she had gone through ever since
she had taken them. The man at least could _see_ his elephant, but her
mice she had only _heard_.

And what a rustling and scratching and gnawing they were making now
within the box which stood on the table before her, where she regarded
it with puzzled, troubled face, wishing it and its occupants a thousand
miles away!

There was a little hole near the bottom of the box: had the mice
gnawed it, trying to make their escape? And how had they come in the
box, and how many were there? What a noise they made!

Forgetting her anxieties for one moment, Carrie took up the box
again, put her eye to the hole, and tried to peep within. But it was
useless, she could see nothing; and now the mice, frightened by her
movements, were as quiet, - well, as quiet as only mice can be under
such circumstances.

Carrie thought she would open the lid of the box a little and peep
within, just a very little bit, not far enough for the mice to escape,
but so she could see how many were there, and what they looked like.
Mice were such dear little things!

No sooner said than done. She raised the lid, cautiously and very
slightly at first, then a little farther, when, quick as thought, a
mouse sprang through the opening, and in a second of time was gone.

Carrie gave a start as sudden; the box fell from her hands, the
cover rolled off, and there were four or five little mice tearing
wildly about the room, seeking each one for a hiding-place, but rather
bewildered by finding themselves so abruptly turned out from their old
home, and scattered abroad upon the wide world.

But perhaps you would like to hear how the mice had come to be in the
box, and I will let you know. The mice never told _me_; but I know for
all that, and this was the way.

Mother Nibble, having strayed into the house one day, made her way
into the store-room, and there found this box with the lid partly
open, a fine stock of chocolate and barley within, and plenty of
soft, tender paper; and made up her mind that here would be a quiet,
well-provisioned house in which to bring up her young family.

And here they had remained undisturbed until that very morning, when
Nellie, putting her store-room to rights, had chanced to discover them,
and, closing them down in sudden imprisonment, had sent them to a fate
from which Carrie's naughtiness had saved them.

And they had escaped now, every one of them, and were scampering here
and there before Carrie's startled eyes.

Another moment, and they were gone, hidden safely away in nooks and
crannies such as only mice could find.

But they were out at large. Here in this very room next to mamma's;
even worse, Carrie had seen one run through the open door into mamma's
own bedroom! What was she to do? Suppose her mother should see him,
find him anywhere, even hear him scratching and nibbling on her own
premises! She had seen enough of her mother's nervous terror of a
mouse, strange, even needless it might seem to herself; but she knew
too well what a torment it was; and now!

She felt as though it was rather hard that the mice should have
escaped, and here in this very place, just at the moment when she had
been going to sacrifice her own pleasure to her mother's comfort, and
to be "as good as Daisy."

Ah! but, Carrie, there was a great difference between you and Daisy.
Your little sister had never yielded to temptation, had put aside her
own wishes at once for the sake of her mother's feelings, - put them
aside as a matter of course, and without a thought that it could or
should be otherwise.

Dear, unselfish little Daisy!

But it would not do for her to stand here, idly gazing about her. There
were the other children expecting her, perhaps looking for her; she
heard their voices even now in the hall below.

Hastily gathering up the scattered fragments of paper, tin-foil, and
crumbs of chocolate and barley which had fallen to the floor, she
collected them within the box, put the cover upon that, opened a drawer
belonging especially to herself, and thrust all beneath some other
things. Some other time, she thought, she would throw the box away;
for the present it was safe there.

This done, she ran downstairs and rejoined her sisters and brothers
and young friends, who were all still so occupied with Daisy and her
pathetic sorrow over the parting from the white mice, that they had
scarcely noticed Carrie's absence, and did not annoy her with the
questions she had dreaded.

But it was a miserable afternoon to Carrie. She felt that repentance
had come too late, and that now at any time her mother might encounter
a mouse. She was not sorry when it came to an end, and Mrs. Bradford,
returning with Mrs. Ransom from their drive, took away her own little
flock with her; Frankie carrying the white mice, which he assured Daisy
he was "only keeping" for her till he and she were married, when he
would "build her a gold house for them;" and that they were just as
much hers if they did live in his house.

Daisy watched the departure of her pets with the most pitiful of
little faces, striving with all her might to smile and look cheerful,
but failing distressingly. Mrs. Ransom hardly understood what it was
all about till Mrs. Bradford's carriage had gone, the white mice with
it; but, when she did, she overwhelmed her unselfish little darling
with so many thanks and caresses that Daisy felt repaid for her
sacrifice.

Nellie wondered what it could be that made Carrie continue so out of
spirits and almost fretful all the evening; but, having been repulsed
once or twice when she would have attempted to give sympathy or ask
questions, she found it best to let Carrie alone, even when she heard
her crying quietly to herself after they had both gone to rest, and her
sister believed her to be asleep.

But when the next morning came, and nothing had yet been seen or heard,
so far as she knew, of the escaped prisoners, Carrie's spirits rose
once more, and she believed that she should have no farther trouble
from them.

Papa was expected home upon the evening of this day, and Nellie was to
be allowed to try her hand upon his favorite ginger-cakes. Nellie had
something of a turn for cooking, and was always so careful about rules
and proportions, steady little woman that she was, that mamma was not
much afraid that she would fail, especially with good-natured Catherine
to keep an eye upon her.

Of course the making of the ginger-cakes was a very important business,
the grand event of the day to Nellie, Carrie, and Daisy; for the two
last must have a hand in them, and "help" Nellie in her operations.
More than this, they were to be allowed to roll out some "teenty
taunty" cakes for their own eating and that of their dolls. They
would have had Nellie go to her cake-making the first thing in the
morning, and leave all else till this was accomplished; but that was
not Nellie's way. "Duty before pleasure" was generally her motto; and
of late she had kept it steadily before her, and tried also to be very
sure which was the _duty_ and which the _pleasure_, feeling that she
had too often mistaken the one for the other.

But at last all the regular small housekeeping tasks were done, and,
with a pleasant consciousness of duty fulfilled, Nellie signified to
the other children that she was ready to begin her cookery.

Catherine had every thing ready for her; and Nellie with a long apron
tied about her neck and covering all her dress, her sleeves rolled
up to her shoulders, and her receipt-book lying open beside her, was
soon deep in the mysteries of mixing, while Carrie stood on the other
side of the table, sifting sugar; and Daisy, mounted on a chair beside
Nellie, ladled spoonful after spoonful of flour into the stone bowl
wherein Nellie was stirring her mixture. Nor did she spill more than a
quarter of each spoonful on the way, which, on the whole, is saying a
good deal.

Daisy's face was radiant, and her troubles of yesterday were for the
time quite forgotten in the interest of her occupation.

"Carrie," said Nellie presently, trying to be mysterious, so that Daisy
might not know she was the subject of remark, "Carrie, don't you think
a certain person of our acquaintance has pretty well recovered?"

"Yes," answered Carrie, "you mean the youngest person in the
k-i-c-h-u-n, don't you? Oh! quite recovered."

But Daisy was too quick for them, and, immediately understanding
that she was the individual alluded to, thought herself called upon
to return to the mournful demeanor which she considered proper under
her bereavement, and, banishing the smiles from her face, she said,
dolefully, -

"You mean me! I know you mean me; and I'm not recoveryed at all, not
one bit."

"But I would if I were you," said Nellie. "When we do a kind thing for
any one, like your giving up your mice for mamma, it is better not to
let them see we feel very badly about it. That is, if we can help it;
and I think you could feel a little glad and happy now if you chose:
couldn't you?"

"Well, I don't know, I b'ieve not," answered Daisy, closing her eyes
with an expression of the most hopeless resignation. "There now!"
continued this unappreciated little mortal, opening them again, "just
look how that old flour went and spilled itself! There's only a little
speck left in the spoon!"

"Because you didn't look what you were doing," said Nellie, laughing;
"better keep your eyes open, Daisy, when you are carrying flour."

"I fink I could recovery a little if I only knew what was in that big
parcel," said Daisy, taking up another spoonful of flour, this time
with her eyes open.

"What parcel?" asked Carrie.

"That large parcel that came home yesterday," said Daisy. "It is for
papa, so mamma said it wasn't right for me to peek; and now it's in the
hall-closet where I can't even see the outside of it. I asked mamma if
I couldn't just open the closet door and look at it, but she told me
I'd better not, 'cause, if I did, it might be a temp-ta-tion," repeated
Daisy with a justifiable pride in the long word and her correct
pronunciation of it.

"Yes, I know," said Nellie, turning to kiss the chubby, befloured
little face at her side. "I know, darling; and you were a wise girl to
keep away; you've been very good yesterday and to-day. Don't put in any
more flour till I come back. I am going into the store-room for another
paper of ginger."

"Carrie," said Daisy, when Nellie had gone, "did you ever have a
temp-ta-tion?"

Carrie did not like this question; innocently as her little sister put
it, it brought back to her too plainly that yielding to temptation of
which she had so lately been guilty.

"Of course, child," she answered pettishly, "everybody does."

"Did it make you do somefing naughty?" was Daisy's still more unwelcome


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