“O, please sir, take me over the crossing.” Said a little faint voice, as I was leisurely taking my morning walk.
The strange request roused me from my reverie; and looking imploringly into my face stood a thinly clad, shivering little girl, who carried a small bundle, which she held in her hand with a singular tenacity. I gave a searching look into the child’s face, while she imploringly repeated:--
“Will you take me over the crossing quick, I’m in such a hurry.”
Tossing her in my arms I bounded over the muddy pathway; and just as I set down my little charge, the bundle slipped from her grasp, or rather its contents, leaving the empty paper in her hands, and an embroidered vest on the sidewalk. I picked up the vest, and in doing so unrolled the same, when lining, sewing-silk and padding were all disengaged, so that the nimble fingers of the poor child picked up, and brushed, and packed them together again with scrupulous care; and tying them firmly, she gave me a sweet smile and bounded along. She would soon have passed from my sight had I not again called after her, and interrogated her why she made such haste.
“O sir,” she replied, “because my mother must have expected me an hour ago. I have been waiting for the young gentleman at the tailor’s to decide which color he preferred, and then the tailor told me to stop while he cut it, and then he gave me such a beautiful pattern for my mother to embroider it by—but it is a sight of work to do it, sir, and I’m afraid she will set up all the long nights to sew, while I am sleeping, for the man said he must have it completed by next Thursday; the young gentleman is to be married then, and will want it—and if it isn’t done, maybe he would never give mother another stitch of work, and then what would become of us?”
And as the child hurried on I caught the same hurried footsteps, and followed on until we came to another crossing, when again the beseeching tone:--
“Will you take me over this crossing too, sir?”
It was done in a trice, and my interest in the child increased as her prattle continued:--
“Mamma is to have a dollar for this work, and she means to buy me a new frock with part of the money, and then we shall have a great loaf of bread and a cup of milk, and mother will find time to eat with me—if there is any money left, I shall have a little open-work straw bonnet, and go to Sabbath-school with Susy Niles.”
And her little feet scarcely touched the walk, so light and fairy-like was her tread.
“And does you mother work for one man all the time, little girl?” I inquire.
“Oh, no, sir; it is only now and then she gets such a nice job. Most of the time she has to sew for shops where she earns about twenty-five cents a day, and then she has hardly enough to pay her rent, and it isn’t all the time we get enough to eat—but then mother always gives me the big slice when there is one big and one little one; sometimes she cries and don’t eat her’s at all.”
A coach was passing—the child looked toward it and remarked:--
“I know the lady in that pretty carriage; she is the very one that is going to marry the young gentleman who is to wear this embroidered vest. She came to my home yesterday to get my mother to spangle the wreath round her white satin dress; and it’s just the same pattern that is to be on this vest; but she could not do it, ‘cause her eyesight is so poor, and the spangles shined so.”
My tongue was silent. Could it be that these were the very articles that were to be worn at my Ellen’s wedding? For did I not pay for spangles yesterday, and what was it that vexed Ellen but because she could not find anybody to sew them on when she returned? She said Mrs. Taggard was almost blind.
“My little girl,” said I, “Is your name Taggard?”
“Yes, sir—‘Gusta Taggard, and we live down in Sullivan court. Are you going home with me?”
It was a sensible conjecture; for why else should I follow on?
“I am going to see you safely at the door, and to help you over all the crossings.”
“There’s only one more, sir, and here it is; we live down there at No. 3, on the third floor back.”
The child looked kindly, and as she sweetly bade me “good by, sir,” I thrust my hand in my pocket and drew from it all the change it contained, which was a bright fifty-cent piece, and place it in her little palm. ‘Gusta Taggard gave me her heartfelt thanks, and was soon out of my sight.
An hour before, I had started from my home an invalid. I had long deliberated whether an exposure to a chilly east wind would not injure rather than improve me. I was melancholy, too; my only daughter was about to be married—there was confusion all over the house—the event was to be celebrated in fashionable style. Ellen’s dress had cost what would have been a fortune to this poor seamstress, and I moralized. But I had forgotten myself; the cough which had troubled me was no longer oppressive. I breathed quite freely, and yet I had walked more briskly than I had done for months, without so much fatigue as slow motion caused, so that when I returned, my wife rallied me upon looking ten years younger than when I left her in the morning; and when I told her the specific lay in my walk with a little prattler, and the satisfaction of having left her happier than I found her, she took the occasion to press the purchase of a diamond brooch for Ellen, affirming if the gift of a half dollar made me so much happier. And that, too, to a little errand street girl, what would fifty time that amount confer upon one’s only daughter, upon the eve before her marriage?
I gave the diamond brooch—I paid the most extravagant bills to upholster’s, dry goods establishments, confectioners and musicians, with which to enliven the great occasion, and yet I found more real satisfaction in providing for the real wants of little ‘Gusta Taggard and her mother than in all the splendid outlay of the wedding ceremony; and it was not that it cost less which made the satisfaction, but it was that all the extravagant outlays, in the very nature of things, are unsatisfactory, while ministering to the necessities of the truly needy and industrious confers it own reward.
I had seen the glittering spangled dress—but it was made ready by some poor, emaciated sufferer, who toiled on in patient trust, and the embroidered vest as finished by the strained vision and aching head of another, who was emphatically one of “God’s poor,” upon whom blight or disgrace had not fallen, save by his appointment; and the diamond brooch was born off by admiring throngs but to be envied and coveted, while the simple coin bestowed upon my little street acquaintance had introduced me to a new species of enjoyment that never cloys in the retrospective. I had learned to do good in small ways—my morning walks have now an object and aim. I pass by splendid palaces to hasten to Sullivan court and thence on to yet other sources of enjoyment, so that my invalidism is fast leaving me by the new direction which is given to my thoughts.
I am free to acknowledge that which I cheerfully pay for flannel robes, and silver ware, and servants, and all the requirements which fashion imposes, I drive far less pleasure from surveying them, than in sitting beside some worthy recipient of charity, who tells me that “the little sum you gave me saved me from despair and self-destruction, and enabled me to become helpful, so that no other assistance is now necessary.” Such a confession fills a void which administering to a luxury never can; and all the satisfaction originated in first helping a little child over the crossing.
STOP AND LOOK AROUND:
Love is full of passing pleasures
That are never seen or heard
Little things that go unheeded—
Blooming flower and song of bird
Overhead, a sky of beauty
Underneath, a changing ground
And we’ll be the better for it
If we’d stop and look around:
Oh, there’s much of toil and worry
In the duties we must meet
But, we’ve time to see the beauty
That lies underneath our feet
We can tune our ears to listen
To a joyous burst of sound
And we know that God intended
We should stop and look around.
Drop the care a while and listen
When the sparrow sings his best
Turn aside and watch the building
Of some little wayside nest
See the wild flower open its petals
Gather moss from stump and mound
And you’ll be the better for it
If you stop and look around.