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I.

“Cash! Cash! here!” cried an attendant at the stationery counter of one of New York’s great shopping emporiums. At the summons a delicate-looking little girl came wearily up, and held out a small wicker basket for the goods and the money. “Be quick now: the lady’s in a hurry.”

Notwithstanding the injunction, the child started off with no special attempt at haste. The same words were dinned into her ears a hundred times a day. She did not see why ladies should be in a hurry. The ladies of her world seemed to have nothing to do but to wear pretty clothes, and to shop, which meant principally the buying of more pretty clothes. It was all very well to make an extra effort to oblige one occasionally; but if she did it every time she was exhorted to, surely her tired feet would give out before the end of the day.

“Cash is so poky!” complained the salesgirl to her companion behind the counter.

“Hie you, Cash! Hustle I say!” called the floor-walker peremptorily, as he passed.

Thus warned, the child skurried away, and reappeared after a very brief interval. As she rushed up with the parcel, an awkward accident occurred. The lady heedlessly stepped backward. Cash dodged; but, alas! before she could stop herself, she had dashed into a pyramid of note-paper that stood upon the end of the counter, and sent the boxes scattering over the floor in dire confusion.

“Oh! oh, my!” exclaimed the salesgirl, distressed, as she contemplated the wreck of the architectural display.

The disturbance at once brought the floor-walker to the spot. “Stupid!” he muttered, taking poor Cash by the shoulder. “Why don’t you look where you’re going? If you can’t mind what you’re about, we have no use for you here; remember that!”

“Please do not blame the child,” interposed the lady who had unwittingly caused the trouble. “It was my fault: I carelessly got in her way. I am very sorry.”

“Don’t mention it, Mrs. M . It is not of the slightest consequence,” said the floor-walker, with a bland smile and a bow. (Mrs. M was a desirable customer, and he would have said the same thing if she had happened to tip the show-case over.) “We have to keep our employees up to the mark, you know,” he added in a low tone, by way of apology for his brusqueness. “The best of them become careless. But Cash has found a friend this time, so we’ll let it pass.”

Cash, who was busily picking up the boxes, made a little grimace to herself at his change of manner. The lady politely inclined her head by way of acknowledgment, and the floor-walker left abruptly, having suddenly discovered that something required his immediate attention in another part of the store.

When he had disappeared, the little girl looked up and faltered gratefully: “Thank you, ma’am!”

Mrs. M now for the first time took notice of the individual to whom she had just rendered a service. She glanced down upon a freckled face of the complexion described as pasty, a pair of greyish-blue eyes, and a tangle of reddish curls just long enough to admit of being tied back with the bit of crumpled ribbon which kept them tidy. Cash was not of prepossessing appearance; yet perhaps because, the grateful glance touched a chord common to humanity in the heart of the stranger, or because one naturally warms to any creature whom one has befriended, or perhaps simply from the sweet womanliness which finds all childhood attractive, whatever the motive, upon the impulse of the moment the lady did a very graceful thing. Taking a rose from the bunch of jacqueminots she wore, she fastened it to the breast of the child’s black apron, and was gone before the latter could recover from her astonishment.

It was only a little incident, but it changed the whole aspect of Cash’s day. The beautiful flower glowed against the dark uniform, like a bit of joy vouchsafed to a sombre life.

“How lovely!” exclaimed the salesgirl. “Aren’t you lucky, Cash! Don’t you want to exchange with me? I’ll give you a delicious orange I brought with my lunch for that posie.”

Cash shook her head. As soon as she could, she stole away to the room where the girls kept their cloaks and hats. Here, after a furtive look around to see that ho one was by who might snatch, it away, she unpinned the rose and slipped it into a small card-board box, having first carefully wrapped the stem in a piece of well moistened paper. Then she tucked the box into the pocket of her jacket, and ran downstairs to the store again.

For the next two or three hours it happened that Cash was kept running to and fro almost without intermission; but she did not mind it now. The kindly word spoken in her behalf by the truly gracious lady, the simple gift of a flower, had given her new spirit. Her heart, like a little bird, kept singing a cheery song to itself; while, as she journeyed hither and thither, her feet seemed to keep time to its gladness.

“Why, Cash, you’re getting smart! What has waked you up?” said the salesgirl, when, well on in the afternoon, the child sat down by the counter for a few seconds. Then, without waiting for a reply, she continued: “Now, aren’t you sorry you did not exchange with me? See, you’ve lost your rose!”

“Oh, ’taint losted,” answered the girl.

“You did not give it to any one after I made the first bid?” (The inquiry was in a sharper tone.)

“No: I’m keeping it for Ellie.”

“Oh, sure enough! Poor Ellie! how is she? Cash, you’re a good little thing to remember her so kindly. Here, I have the orange still; take it to her, too.”

The child’s eyes sparkled with pleasure as the salesgirl put the golden ball into her hand. “Ellie’ll be awful pleased. I’ll tell her you sent it, Julia,” she said.

Cash had, of course, another name: it was Katy Connors. Katy lived way over on the east side of the city, in a house which was once a handsome dwelling, but had long since been divided into tenements and given up to ruin. The Connors were known among their neighbors as a respectable, hard-working family. The father was a day-laborer; the mother went out washing; Joe, a boy of fourteen, was in the district messenger service; after him came Katy, who was employed in McNaughton’s store; and then Ellie, the little invalid. Two younger children had died in infancy.

Poor Ellie was fast becoming helpless. How different it had been a few months before! What a sturdy, active, child she was, when one morning she set out in gay spirits “to earn money for mother!” Like Katy, she had obtained a position as cashgirl in McNaughton’s. And how quick and smart she was about her duties! The floor-walker commended her twice during the week, and said he would speak for an increase in her wages. How proud she felt when Saturday came, and she knew she would have two dollars and a half to take home! Unfortunately, it was to be dearly gained.

Saturday afternoon it happened that the store was unusually crowded; everything was stir and confusion. Little Ellie and her companions dashed now here, now there, in response to the unceasing cry of “Cash! Cash!” In the midst of the hurry, the floor-walker gave Ellie a message to deliver to one of the clerks in the basement. “Don’t delay!” he called after her. Eager to please, the child made her way through the throng, and was on the point of darting down the stairs, when, alas! her foot caught, she tripped, gave a little scream, and was precipitated down the entire flight. In an instant several employees from the neighboring counters rushed to pick her up; but, to their alarm, though she strove to be brave, when they attempted to move her she could not repress a low moan of anguish. The superintendent sent at once for a doctor, who discovered that she had sustained a severe injury, having struck against the edge of one of the iron steps.

Where was now the proud home-coming? Ellie was taken to the hospital, whither frightened Mrs. Connors was summoned. Upon one of the cots in the accident ward lay the child, her small face wan with pain, and in her eyes the startled expression noticeable in those of a person who has had a serious fall. In one feverish hand she held something tightly clasped something for which she had asked before being carried from the store. When the doctor turned aside she beckoned to her mother, and, with a pathetic little smile, folded into the palm of the weeping woman a small yellow envelope. The next moment she fainted away, Mrs. Connors’ tears flowed faster as she beheld the precious offering Ellie’s first wages, and the last which she was likely ever to earn.

The firm of McNaughton & Co. investigated the accident, to see if they could by any means be liable to an action for damages brought by an employee. But there was no loose nail in the stairway, not the least obstruction. The proprietors were not to blame; it was simply the child’s heedlessness, they said. In fact, the fault was with Ellie’s shoes: the sole of one, being broken, caught on the top step and caused her fall.

And she was to have had a new pair that very evening. Mrs. Connors had quietly determined that her first earnings should be expended in this way. Poor Ellie! she would not need shoes now: the doctors feared she would never walk again. The firm sent a twenty-dollar bill to the child’s mother, another “Cash” was engaged to take Ellie’s place, and the matter was speedily forgotten.

II.

Not growing better at the hospital, Ellie begged to be taken home. Rather than live apart from those she loved, she strove to be content to remain alone day after day, propped up by an inverted chair upon a wretched bed. Or, when she felt stronger, with the aid of a pair of rude crutches, she would drag herself to the window to watch patiently for the return of the dear bread-winners, whose toil she would so willingly have shared.

There, in a little stuffy room, upon the top floor of the old house, she spent the long, sultry summer; there she remained when autumn came; there the approaching Christmas holidays were likely to find her.

How was it, then, that Ellie was generally cheery and blithe? Perhaps her mother’s prayer each morning, as she bade her good-bye to go to work, had most to do with it. “May Jesus and His Blessed Mother watch over you, mavourneen!” the good woman would say, with a sigh at the necessity for leaving her.

Frequently, when the child could have wept for loneliness, the words would keep echoing in her heart. She was a well-disposed little creature, and those hours spent alone often brought serious thoughts, which molded and beautified her character. But Ellie was a thoroughly natural child: there was none of the story-book goodness about her. She was keenly interested in everything that went on. She thought there was no one like mother, but it was Katy who represented the world to her, the world of McNaughton’s store, with its brightness and beautiful wares, and its ever-changing crowd of handsomely costumed ladies intent upon the pleasures of shopping. Any scrap of news which one fagged out little cashgirl brought home at the close of the day was eagerly listened to by the other; who found her enforced idleness so irksome.

Katy had a great deal to narrate at the close of the day upon which our story opened. Sitting upon the foot of Ellie’s bed, she told how she upset the pyramid of note-paper; and what trouble she would have been in, but for the kind lady who so promptly came to the rescue. To Ellie’s quick imagination the story had all the charm of a fairy tale. And when, at the close, her sister placed in her hands the orange and the tiny box wherein lay the rose, still quite fresh and fragrant, her face beamed with delight; and Katy went to bed very happy, feeling herself more than repaid for having treasured them so carefully.

The next morning, when Katy reached the store, she found everybody in a state of pleasurable excitement over the opening of the holiday goods; for it wanted but three weeks to Christmas. At the end of the stationery counter, where the pyramid of note-paper had been, an immense stack of dolls was now attractively displayed. The little cashgirl stood before it, lost in admiration. There were little dolls and big ones; dolls with blue eyes, and others with brown; some with light hair, and some with dark; bebee Jumeau and bebee Brue; rubber dolls, and rag dolls with papier-mâche faces.

“How lovely they are!” she murmured to herself, including even the plainest and least among them in her appreciation of the gorgeous company. “Don’t I wish Ellie could see them!” she continued. “I’ll have to count them, so as to tell her how many there are; for I don’t believe that by herself she could imagine such a lot of dolls together.”

Katy and Ellie had never had a doll in their lives, that is, a real boughten one, as they called those not of home manufacture.

The kind salesgirl who had sent the orange to Ellie, from her post behind the counter, noticed the child’s wonderment.

“Will you look at Cash!” she said to a companion. Katy was oblivious of them, however. After watching her a few moments, Julia called out:

“Well, Cash, which do you like best?”

The little girl looked the dolls over again with much deliberation; and finally, pointing to a good-sized one, with golden hair and large eyes, said:

“This.”

“Oh, one of those ninety-seven cent dolls!” responded Julia. “They are handsome for the price. Sawdust bodies, to be sure; but what fine heads? red cheeks, splendid eyes, and hair that will comb out as well as that of some costlier ones, I’ll be bound.”

“Ninety-seven cents!” repeated Katy, with a sigh. It was an unattainable sum, as far as she was concerned. The salesgirl remarked the sigh.

“Say, Cash, why don’t you buy it?” she urged. “Your mother’ll let you keep part of your wages for yourself Christmas week, won’t she? And you wouldn’t get such another bargain in a doll if you hunted a year and a day. You’d better speak for it quick, though; for when the rush of trade comes, there’s no knowing how long the lot will last.”

Katy shook her head. “I wouldn’t want to buy a Christmas present for myself,” she answered. “But I was wishing only there is really no use in wishing; still, just supposing there was I was thinking if I could only get that doll for Ellie, how happy she would be. You know she has to be alone so much, and she gets awful blue sometimes; though she won’t let on, ’cause it would fret mother. But the doll would be great company for her. We’ve neither of us ever had one.”

She continued to gaze longingly at the rosy beauty, while the salesgirl meditatively dusted the show-case.

“Stop! I’ll tell you how you can manage to get it,” Julia said, suddenly. “It’s the rule of this store that on Christmas Eve, after all the customers are gone, each employee may choose as a present from the firm some article worth a quarter of his or her wages for the week. Let’s see: you’re paid three dollars, aren’t you?”

Katy nodded.

“That would count for seventy-five cents on the doll; then all you would have to put to it would be twenty-two cents. Couldn’t you do that somehow?”

“Yes!” cried Katy, delighted. “Sometimes I run errands for a dressmaker who lives in the block below us, and she gives me pennies, or once in a while a nickel. And when my aunt’s husband comes to see us he’s a widder man and sorter rich; he drives a truck, well, when he comes ’casionally, he gives each of us children as much as ten cents; and I guess he’ll be round about Christmas time. Oh, yes, I’m almost sure I can make up the twenty-two cents!”

“But, then, when the doll is yours, won’t you hate to give it away?” queried Julia; for Katy already began to assume an air of possession.

“Oh, not to Ellie! And, you know, she’ll be sure to let me hold it sometimes” was the ingenuous reply.

The quick tears sprang to the salesgirl’s eyes, and she turned abruptly away, to arrange some dolls upon the shelves behind her.

“After all, love is better than riches,” she reflected, as the picture of the crippled child in the humble home arose in her mind, and she gave a sidelong glance at Katy’s thin face and shabby dress.

“You will be sure to save this very doll for me, won’t you?” pleaded the child.

“I can’t put it aside for you,” she explained, “because the floor-walker would not allow that; but I’ll arrange so you will have one of the lot, never fear.”

“But I want this one,” declared Katy.

“My goodness gracious, you foolish midget! They’re all as much alike as rows of peas in a pod,” exclaimed her friend, a trifle impatiently.

“No,” insisted the little girl. “All the others have red painted buckles on their shoes, but this doll has blue buckles; and I’m sure Ellie would prefer blue buckles, ’cause we’ve often talked about it when we played choosing what we’d like best.”

“Well, well!” laughed Julia. “All right, Katy: I’ll save it, if I can.”

Satisfied by this promise, the child ran away; for customers began to come in, and to loiter would be to lessen her chance of gaining the treasure which to herself she already called Ellie’s.

McNaughton & Co. did a great business within the next two weeks; the employees were “fearfully rushed,” as they expressed it. Katy had no opportunity for further conversation with the sociable attendant at the end of the stationery counter, now given over to toys, upon the subject oftenest in her thoughts. She had been transferred to another department; but every day she took occasion to go around and look at the doll, to make sure that it was still there; and the kindly salesgirl always found time to give her an encouraging nod and a smile.

One afternoon, however, a few days before Christmas, when Julia returned from her lunch she met Katy, who was crying bitterly. The cause of her distress was soon told. A new girl had been put at the counter that morning; she knew nothing about Katy’s doll, and now, as luck would have it, was just in the act of selling it to a big, bluff-looking man, who said he wanted it for his little daughter.

Julia rushed to her post. The man was upon the point of paying for the doll, and had decided that he would take the parcel with him.

“Have you seen the brown-eyed dolls?” she interposed, pleasantly. The other girl scowled at the interference with ‘her sale,’ but she persisted. “The brown-eyed ones are considered the most desirable.”

“Are they?” the man hesitated. “Well, I believe I’ll take one, then, instead of this. My little maid likes brown eyes.”

Katy’s doll was saved. The child, in a fever of suspense, had watched the transaction from behind a pile of dry-goods. Now she turned toward her friend a face bright with gratitude, as she hurried away in response to the imperative call of “Cash.”

When Julia recovered from her flurry, she explained matters to her associate. The girl’s ill-humor quickly vanished once she understood the situation, and she willingly agreed to help retain the doll if possible.

III.

On the morning of the day before Christmas, Katy appeared at the counter and offered the twenty-two cents which she had succeeded in getting together the balance to be paid on her present.

“Can’t I take the doll now, please?” she begged.

“You will have to ask the floor-walker,” replied Julia.

She did so, but he said she must wait until evening; he could not make any exceptions. So she was obliged to control her impatience.

Scarcely five minutes afterward a crash was heard. The equilibrium of the rack of dolls had been disturbed, and the whole collection was dashed to the floor. Fortunately, only three or four of the dolls were broken; but, alas! among them was the one Katy had set her heart upon giving to her sick sister.

The commotion brought her to the scene at once. Poor Katy! She did not burst out crying, as Julia expected; but just clasped her hands and stood looking at the wreck of the doll, with an expression of hopeless disappointment, which would have seemed ludicrous, considering the cause, had it not been so pathetic. It aroused the ready sympathy of Julia.

“Don’t feel so bad, midget!” she whispered, picking up the pieces. “See: only the head is spoiled. There’s another with the feet knocked off. I’ll get permission to take the two dolls up to the toy-mender’s room, and have the head of the other put on your doll; that will make it as good as new.”

When order was restored, she made her request of the floor-walker.

“All right,” he answered. “It will cut down the loss by ninety-seven cents; so you may have it done, if they can spare the time upstairs. That is an awkward corner, anyhow; it will have to be left free in future.”

At noon Julia snatched a few moments from the short interval allowed her to get her lunch, and hurried up to the toy-mender’s quarters. She prevailed upon him to have the doll repaired in the course of an hour or two; he promised to do so, and it was sent back to her early in the afternoon.

That day Katy’s duties, fortunately for her peace of mind, brought her frequently into the vicinity of the doll counter. Now she hastened to it, in a quiver of excitement, to witness the success of the process. When the cover was taken off the box, her cheeks crimsoned with indignation and her eyes blazed, as she turned inquiringly to Julia.

“Indeed, Katy, it is none of my doings,” protested the salesgirl; though the result of the experiment was so funny she had not the heart to laugh. The doll with the beautiful blue buckles on her shoes had now a mop of darky wool, and a face as black as the ace of spades.

Julia’s quick wit at once jumped at the correct conclusion regarding the apparent blunder. The toy-mender’s two thoughtless apprentices had played a joke upon the little cashgirl.

“It is only the nonsense of those rogues upstairs. I’ll take the doll back and tell them they must fix it to-night, or I’ll complain of them for their fooling at this busy time,” she announced, energetically; for she noted the twitching around the corners of Katy’s mouth, notwithstanding the child’s brave effort at self-control.

Katy went off partially comforted.

“It’s mean to tease a child in that way,” added Julia, in an audible aside, as she laid the doll on the shelf behind, and wished that the lady to whom she was showing some very handsome dolls would finish her choice, so that she might get a free minute to run up to the mending room again. But the interest of the customer had been awakened by the little drama enacted before her.

“What is the matter?” she inquired, cordially.

Julia looked disconcerted; but the lady had such a sweet and noble face, and her manner was so winning, that the girl found herself telling briefly not only the history of Katy’s doll, but of Katy and Ellie too. It was not a waste of time either; for while she talked the purchaser made one or two additional selections, and then, after giving directions concerning them, passed on.

“Do you know who that was?” asked Katy, rushing up as the lady turned into another aisle of the store.

“Yes: Mrs. M , of 34th Street. Of course she left her address for the parcels,” replied Julia.

“It’s my Rose-lady, as I call her, don’t you remember the one who gave me the pretty flower?” cried the child.

“Why, so it is!” rejoined Julia. “Well, she’s a lovely lady certainly. She happened to ask what the trouble was about the doll; and was so interested I couldn’t help telling how you had saved and planned to get it for Ellie, and all about it.”

“Mercy! did you?” answered the child, in confusion. “My, but you’re the talker, Julia! What would the likes of her care to hear about that!”

The store kept open till half-past eleven Christmas Eve; but at length the last customer was gone, and the employees were allowed to choose their presents. Katy skipped around with joy when the doll was put into her arms. After a moment, however, Julia whisked it away again, and sent it to be packed in a box. The box proved to be large and clumsy, but this was accounted for upon the plea of haste.

“Well, good-night and merry Christmas, Julia!” said the little cashgirl, gratefully. “I don’t know how to thank you enough for being so good, and helping me so much, indeed I don’t!”

“Never mind trying,” answered Julia, brightly, but with an earnestness unusual to her. “Isn’t this Christmas Eve, and didn’t the Infant Jesus come to help us, and teach us to do what we can for one another? Just say a prayer for me at Mass to-morrow; that is all I ask.”

“You may be sure I will,” Katy responded, heartily.

“Good-night! Merry Christmas to you all, and especially to Ellie!” added Julia, hurrying away.

Katy’s father was waiting for her at one of the entrances of the store. After a slight demur, she allowed him to carry the package, while she trudged along at his side. The stores were closed, the gay throng of shoppers had disappeared. People were still abroad upon the great thoroughfares; but the side streets were deserted, except when, now and again, overtaxed workers like herself were to be met making their way home. The lamps burned dim, save where, occasionally, an electric light flared up with a spectral glare. The glitter of the world had departed. It was past midnight; in the deep blue of the winter’s sky the stars glowed with a peaceful radiance. Looking up at them, Katy began to think, in her own simple fashion, of the meaning of Christmas and of Christmas gifts; of Bethlehem, the Virgin Mother, and the Divine Child; of the Love that came into the world on that holy night of long ago, to kindle in all hearts a spirit of kindliness and helpfulness toward one another, making it more blessed to give than to receive. The little girl realized the happiness of making others happy, when she handed to Ellie the bulky package over which she had kept watch all the way to the house.

The usually pale face of the young invalid flushed with excitement, while, with trembling fingers, she unfastened the wrappings and opened the box.

“O Katy!” she exclaimed, as she beheld the hard-won present, “O Katy!” It was all she could say, but the tone and the look which accompanied it were quite enough.

At first neither of the children could think of anything besides the doll; but after a while Ellie made another discovery. As she trifled with the box, she cried:

“Why, there’s something else here!”

The next moment she drew out a doll precisely like the first, except that its shoes had red buckles; at the sight of which Katy immediately concluded that, for herself, she liked red buckles better. Attached to it was a card on which was written: “For an unselfish little sister.”

“It did not get there by mistake: it’s for you, Katy,” said Ellie, ecstatically.

“Then the Rose-lady must have sent it,” declared Katy, feeling as if she were in a dream.

That her conjecture was correct was evident the next day; for about noon a carriage stopped at the door of the dilapidated house in street; and a visitor, who seemed to bring with her an additional share of Christmas sunshine, was shown up to the Connors’ tenement. She was followed by a tall footman, who quietly deposited upon the table a generous basket of the season’s delicacies.

“The Rose-lady, mother!” cried Katy, pinching her own arm to see if she could possibly be awake.

It was all true, however; and that day the Connors family found a devoted friend. Henceforth the Rose-lady took a special interest in Ellie. She induced a celebrated doctor to go and see her. The great man said there was a chance that the crippled child might be cured by electricity; and it was arranged that the mother should take her regularly to his office for treatment, Mrs. M offering the use of her carriage.

Now Ellie can walk almost as well as ever. She is growing stronger every day, and will probably before long be able to attain her ambition “to earn money to help mother.”

“And to think, Katy,” the little girl often says, affectionately, “it all came about through your wanting to give me that Christmas doll!”