The little Heroine.
by Mrs. Caroline Soule.

‘"Morning again!"’ and the weary, wasted invalid lifted his head from the pillow and looked pitifully over the dim room. ‘"Oh, that the night had been longer! To the wretched, sleep is dear. My poor, poor wife — my darling babies — must they freeze and starve! Oh, God! it is too much!"’ And with tears gushing from his eyes, the pale man buried his head in the scanty covering and groaned aloud.

It was no wonder that he was out of heart on that cold, dark December day. At best, he had a hard struggle to get food, and for the past six months the struggle had been almost desperate for his wife had been unable to assist him in the least, being confined to her bed with a slow, wasting disease. His little daughter Mart, a pretty child of twelve, kept the one room tidy, and herself and two little brothers like wax. By the aid of her mother's whispered directions she also managed to cook the se ly meals, and also managed to do up the weekly washing and ironing.

‘"My little sunbeam,"’ the father fondly called her, while the mother would say, in her low, sweet tones, ‘"our angel."’

One night the young housekeeper waited until it was pitch bark for her father to come home to his frugal supper, and then, with fearful forebodings at her heart, undressed the little boys and put them to bed, and tied on her hood and cloak to go for him. A crowd met her at the very threshold. With a wild cry, she rushed toward the inanimate form they carried upon a board. It was her father, brought home to them with a broken leg.

A week had passed since this misfortune.--By the sale of their few pieces of furniture, the wolf had been kept from the door. But now nothing remained save the coarse bed on which the distressed ones slept. No coal for the little grate; no tea for the feverish lips; no crusts for the famished children! What should be done?

It was a question little Marie asked herself again and again as they lay there watching the few pale sunbeams that struggled through the window. And she asked it oftener after she had risen and dressed herself and brothers, and smoothed the two beds. Bread they must have that day. They were all faint even now, and the boys clamoring for their breakfast.

Suddenly a bright thought came to the little daughter. She remembered having seen in the coffee houses young girls, no taller than she, waiting upon the customers. Perhaps they would try her. ‘"If they only would,"’ she murmered softly. ‘"I am handy, quick, and patient, and I would try so hard to oblige."’ I am pretty, too, she might truly have added, had there been a spark of vanity in her heart; for she was a sweet child, with a brow like a sunny snowdrift, and eyes like the spring violets that nestle in the woodlands. ‘"I will try at least, and see what I can do;"’ and after watching a moment the weary sleep of her parents, she whispered to the little boys that she was going out to get some bread for them, and hurried away.

She did go to the baker's, but her pitiful story failed to touch his hard heart, and there were tears on her cold cheek as she turned away. Even if she secured a place, she could hope for no wages till Saturday, and there were four weary days between this and that. Bread would be too late if she waited till then. What should she do — beg? She asked herself the question with a quivering lip.--Never before had their poverty driven them to that straight, and it was hard, even now, with the picture of that wretched home fresh in her vision, to plead for charity. But she did it. Again and again she said to the passers-by ‘"Please, sir, please, ma am, give me a penny to buy bread for my sick parents."’

But the gentlemen had their overcoats buttoned to their chins, and the ladies were enveloped in furs, and it was too much like trouble to find their pocket-books or purses just to supply a beggar's wants.

‘"Go to the soup-house,"’ said one, at last, more churlish than the rest. ‘ "The city provides for such as you."’

It was a new idea to her, and as fast as feet could carry her she went, and entering in breathless haste told her story to the attendant matron.

‘"I will report the case to the committee,"’ said the woman quietly, making a memorandum of the name and number of the street. ‘"Come in to-morrow morning, and I will do what I can for you."’

To-morrow! She would be too weak to walk so far by that time, and what would become of the rest?

With a heavy heart, she went home, having no courage to present herself as a waiter to any of the coffee houses she passed on her way.

‘"Did you get some?"’ cried the boys, gathering about her, and pulling off her cloak to see if it were hidden in her cloak or under her arms.

‘"Did you get some?"’ said two faint voices from the bed in the corner, and the coverlet was thrown off, and two pairs of thin, white hands put forth.

‘"No, no,"’ she answered plaintively. ‘"But I will try again. Keep up good hope."’

‘"There will be plenty out of the oven now. Yes, plenty,"’ she said to herself, as she buttoned her cloak on the threshold; ‘"plenty, and I'll have some, too. They shall not starve.--Men and women forsake me; God doesn't hear me any longer! There is nothing left for me to do but steel."’

Her face paled as she spoke it, and for a few moments there was a wild wrestle in her heart. Then she went on quietly, pausing an instant before each baker's door, and looking anxiously within. By and by she found one that seemed empty.

A whole pile of steaming loaves lay upon the counter.

She rushed in and seized one, and hiding it under her cloak, fled madly up the street. --But the baker had seen her from the little sitting-room door, and was after her, crying lustily, ‘"Stop thief, stop thief!"’ A crowd followed her and the poor child was soon run down.

‘"A clear case,"’ said the police officer, who took her in hand--‘ "property found on her.--She must go to the court-room."’

In vain she pleaded with them, and told her story. ‘"They must do their duty, she might have begged; she might have gone to the soup house; there was no excuse for stealing, at any rate."’

No excuse, and her mother was dying for food!

An important trial was just closing, and all the avenues to the court-house were thronged.

‘"They'll be through soon,"’ said the officer to the baker; ‘"we'll wait here a few moments No danger of her getting away while my grip is on her,"’ and he rightened his grip on the shrinking arm, till the flesh quivered with pain.

‘"Take me home first,"’ she said sadly; ‘"they will worry about me so. My poor mother will die if she thinks I'm lost"’

‘"They'll soon find out where you are,"’ said he, gruffly. ‘"Bad news is like lightning, it travels so fast."’

‘"Oh, dear! oh, dear! What will become of them?"’ and she sobbed aloud.

A little girl about her age was passing by — a rich man's child — you would know it by! the embroidered dress and cloak, the rich velvet hood, and the costly fur tippet and muff. But there was no false pride hidden under the expensive raiment; a warm heart was beating there, and its sympathies went out far towards the poor little prisoner. For a moment she paused, as if irresolute upon her plan of action; then laying her mittened hand gently on the officer's, she said politely:

‘"May I speak with her?"’

‘"O, yes; she's not committed yet."’

Putting her soft rosy cheek close to the purple cold o e, she whispered very earnestly.--Maria told her a touching story; and begged she would, by the love she bore her mother, to find out her humble home, and comfort the distressed ones.

‘"I will, I will,"’ the stranger replied earnestly; ‘"and don't you cry any more; my father knews the judge, and he'll get you away to-morrow. Good-bye — keep up a good heart;"’ and off she ran.

She knew her mother to be one of the most charitable of women, and hastened home to tell her the story of Maric; but unfortunately, she had just gone to ride, and would not be back till near dinner time.

‘"What can I do?"’ she cried, and wrung her hands.

‘"They want coal, and bread, and tea, and so many things, and I have only ten cents in my pocket."’

She sat down on the marble steps and pondered. All at once her eyes brightened, and a beautiful color flushed her face.

‘"I'll do it,"’ she said resolutely; ‘"mamma will forgive me, when she knows all. Without fire, without food, nearly naked, quite starved. O, she will be so glad I thought so far;"’ and she bounded down the street and rushed around the corner.

Pushing open the plate-glass door of the most fashionable hair-dresser of the city, she went quietly up to the attendant, and asked to see Monsieur B. He ushered her into the inner room, saying he would call him.

Her heart fluttered while she waited, but her resolution did not fail her.

‘"Ah! it is my little Theresa;"’ and Monsieur B took her hand kindly. ‘ "Good morning, dear. Come to have your ringlets dressed for the ball to-night — no? "’ as she shook her head, ‘"why not?--you go certainly; you are one of Monsieur's best pupils.--What is it, then, my dear?"’

For a moment her lips quivered; then she spoke up quickly:

‘"You said once, sir, your would give me an eagle for my curis. Will you do it now — today — this minute?"’

The hair-dresser was astonished. What could the child mean. To cut off those curls, long, silken, and gold colored, the pale gold of a stray sunbeam, it would have been sacrilege almost for a mother to have done it; to sell them, was surely a crime.

‘"Does she, your mother, does she know you come here?"’

‘"No, sir; but she will not blame me when I tell her how it was. O, no, she is too good."’

‘"And how is it, my dear? Make a friend of me, and tell me how it comes you ask me to buy your hair;"’ and he stroked the glossy curls as tenderly as a father might.

She hesitated, and then opened her heart to him. There was a mist on his eyes when she finished her plaintive story. He walked the floor a moment as if irresolute, then stopping before her, he took out his pocket-book, and handed her two half eagles. She put them in her purse, and quietly took off her hood.

‘"Not now, my little angel!"’ he said, huskily; ‘"not now, I am too busy, to-morrow will do as well; or stay; I will come in this evening. Till then do not mention it to any one. Go now on your mission, my Sister of Charity."’ and he led her to the door.

How quick her little feet flew over the pavement. She could hardly speak when she had reached a baker's shop.

‘"Two loaves, sir — large ones, too,"’ she gasped, and threw down one of the gold places.

The man stared at her curiously. The color rose to her brow, but she said nothing, and hurried away with her warm, fragrant bundle.

‘"Is it you, Marie? What kept you so long, daughter? Quick, break me a crumb? I am faint."’

Like an angel, the little stranger looked to them as she glided in, her cheeks like apple blossoms, and her hair falling over her shoulders like ripples of sunshine.

‘"Marie cannot come home yet,"’ she said, in a voice that was as sweet as a robin's in May-time. ‘"But she will return to-morrow; perhaps this evening. She has sent me with the bread. See the two nice loaves I've brought you,"’ and she tore it in fragments. Tears coursed down her face as she saw how eager they clutched them. She had never dreamed of poverty like this; never known how hungry folks may be, and live.

‘"I must go now,"’ she said, opening the door; ‘"but I will come again soon and make you comfortable;"’ and she hurried to the nearest grocer and bought a basket full of provisions, and engaged him to send in some kindlings and coal.

The little boys helped her to build a fire in the cold stove, and when it blazed merrily, she put on the kettles, and soon had a refreshing cup of tea for each invalid, and a platter of smoking potatoes for the children.

‘"Where is Marie? do you know, little angel?"’ asked the sick mother, as she gave back the cup.

‘"O, yes, I know,"’ she answered, cheerfully. ‘"Didn't I say she would be home early to-morrow? Don't worry. Better days are coming. I'll bring her in the morning. Good- bye."’

It was as though a fairy had come and vanished; a kind-hearted fairy, too, for beside the supply of coal and wood, a half-eagle lay in the sick father's hand.

Murmuring to himself all the tender adjectives in the French language, the good hairdresser immediately hastened to the court-room. The judge was a friend of his, too, and he hoped to save the child from prison.--son. She had not yet been brought in, the court having adjourned for half an hour.--He asked for a private interview with the judge. As soon as it was granted, he told him all Marie's distress, and the generous kindness of little Theresa.

‘"Poor child! good child!"’ said his listener, wiping his glasses. ‘"She must go to prison, I suppose; but it shall be to a chamber in my own house. Go into court, and tell the same story over, it will be better than a lawyer's plea,"’

He did so, and there was not a dry eye in the audience when he ceased. Even the baker hung his head, and seemed to muse.--Before the breathless silence had been broken, he looked up and said to the judge, ‘"I withdraw my complaint; let her go with me and take all she wants."’

The spacious room rung with applause, and while the enthusiasm was at its height, a thoughtful old man went about the crowd with his hat. People's fingers found their pocket-books as if by intuition, and when he poured the collection into Marie's apron, she screamed with joy. No more hunger, no more cold, no more nakedness that winter.--They were rich.

The baker took her home himself, and told her at the door not to worry about bread till spring, for his wagon would leave them all they wanted every morning. How lightly she bounded up the staircase. It was like a bird's footfall, a singing bird's in the time of flowers.

‘"Have you come, Marie?"’ Two voices spoke at once.

‘"Yes, mother; yes, father, and we are rich; see!"’ and she emptied her apron on the bed. How merrily the silver and gold coin jingled. It was like the echo of a harvest song, the distant echo brought back by summer breezes.

‘"Bless you, my little sunbeam; bless you, my angel."’ And two hands were laid upon her head, and tears and smiles were strangely mixed together.

‘"What does it mean, Theresa?"’ and the mother looked wonderingly at her beautiful little daughter, as she came into the parlor, in obedience to a message brought by a servant, ‘"Monsieur B. says you promised to see him to-night."’

‘"I did, mamma. Did you bring your scissors, sir?"’ And she carried a footstool to the sofa upon which he sat, and quietly nestled at his feet.

‘"Yes, my dear, see!"’ and he took from his pocket a shining pair.

‘"Theresa, what means this?"’ the mother spoke sternly.

‘"I have sold my hair to him, mamma, and he is come to cut it off."’

‘"Sold your hair, cut it off! were you crazy, are you in earnest?"’ And she gathered her to her side, and laid her hand protectingly over the precious curis.

‘"Tell her how it was, sir. She won't be angry, then. Please, sir, tell her."’

He did so. Closer and closer to her heart was the child drawn by the tearful mother, as the narrator proceeded with his touching story. And when it was finished, she covered her face with kisses, and said in a broken voice, ‘"Of such is the kingdom of Heaven."’

A single ringlet was severed from the beautiful head that night; one long, soft, golden curl, which the hair-dresser carried home as reverently as though it had been down from an angel's wing. On the morrow he had it woven into a heart's ease, and the sunny, shining human flower was ever afterwards worn next his heart, a talisman against besetting sins.

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