THERE stood our Daisy. What a Daisy it was too; what a fair, sweet floweret; pure and innocent-looking as the blossoms over which she bent. There she stood beside her basket of flowers, a little spot of brightness and beauty amidst all the dust and heat and turmoil of the noisy street, on that warm summer afternoon.
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It was a street which ran beside a great railroad depot. Porters, carmen, and hackmen were calling, shouting, and swearing; passengers were hurrying by to catch the trains which were starting every few minutes; carriages driving up with their loads of ladies and children; and farther down the street were great trucks laden with freight, and express-wagons filled with baggage, which the railroad porters were unloading with a great amount of noise and crash; and amongst it all was Daisy, standing opposite the door of the ladies' entrance.
But not one of all those passers-by knew that she was a "Daisy," or that those were her namesakes which she held so lovingly in her little hands. Now and then one stopped to buy one of the five or ten cent bouquets, so tastefully arranged, which lay in her basket; and almost all who did so had a kind word to give the child; for there was something in her look and air which pleaded for tenderness and sympathy. It did not seem that this was her proper place; for even in her homely dress she looked so dainty and delicate, and moved and spoke so like a little lady, that it was easy to see that she had been accustomed to a different kind of life. But all who noticed her, or stopped to buy her flowers, were in such haste that none had time for more than a passing interest in the child, and contented themselves with wondering and pitying.
Down the street came a lady with a little girl, the latter skipping and jumping as she held her mother's hand. No wonder the little one was happy, and as full of play and merry pranks as any kitten; for she had been spending such a pleasant day with mamma in the city, and was now going back with "such lots to tell about and heaps of pretty things" to her own lovely country home.
"Oh, see, mamma!" she said, as her eye fell upon the other child, "see those pretty flowers that dear little girl is selling. She is just about as large as Lola Swan, and don't she look nice and sweet. Won't you buy some flowers from her, mamma?"
"You have plenty of flowers at home, dear Lily, and we have about as much as we can carry now," answered her mother.
"Oh, dear mamma, but those little brenkays" (bouquets, Lily meant) "would take up such a tiny mite of room, and I want you to buy some for kindness to the little girl. She looks so sorry out of her eyes, mamma."
Moved by the pleadings of her little daughter, Mrs. Ward turned toward the flower-girl, whom in her hurry she had nearly passed without a look, and asked the price of her bouquets.
"What a pretty pot of daisies! Can't I have that, mamma?" asked Lily.
But at this the flower-girl drew back and put one hand over the pot of daisies she held in the other, as if she feared it was to be taken from her by force.
"I'll ask papa to carry them for me, mamma," said Lily.
"Ho! ho!" said a cheery voice behind her, "so you think papa has nothing better to do than turn expressman and carry all your traps, do you? I wonder how many bundles are already waiting in the depot for me to put safely in the cars;" and turning about Lily saw her father, who had overtaken his wife and little girl.
"Oh! lots and lots!" said Lily, jumping about with new glee as she saw him. "We bought something for everybody, papa; and I bought a present for your birthday to-morrow; but it is a secret. Mamma is going to fill it with ink and I'll put it on your writing-table 'fore you come down in the morning; but you won't ask what it is, will you?"
"Not on any account," said Mr. Ward. "But you must make haste and buy your flowers, or we shall not find good seats in the cars. So you want these daisies, do you? How much are they, my child?"
But again the flower-girl drew back.
"I couldn't sell them, sir," she said; "at least not now, not if,——"
"Oh! they are for some favorite customer, hey? You see, Lily, you can't have them. Well, pick out your bouquets; we'll hang them about our necks if we can't carry them any other way," said Mr. Ward. "This is the little girl I told you about, my dear," turning to his wife, who had been looking at the sweet, sad face of the young flower vender.
"What is your name, my child?" asked the lady.
"My name is—they call me Margaret," said the child, with hesitation in her voice and manner, and a sudden flush breaking over her face.
"There," said Mr. Ward, when, having paid for the flowers which Lily had chosen, he hurried his wife and daughter away; "there, my dear, I did not say too much about that child, did I?"
"Why no," said Mrs. Ward, looking back to the small figure beside its basket of flowers, "there is certainly something very interesting about her. Her speech and manner, as well as her looks, are strangely refined and lady-like for one in her position. I wish we had time to talk more to her."
The flower-girl looked after them and sighed,—a long, weary sigh, as she watched the frolicsome Lily.
"Most all little girls have their fathers and mothers," she said softly to herself; "but I don't have either. I wonder why God did take both of mine away; if He didn't know how lonesome I would be, or why He didn't take me too. I don't see what good I can be to Him all alone by myself, except Betty and Jack. But then He knows, and maybe He only wants me to be patient till He's ready to take me."
[boy and girl and woman]
But the wistful eyes brightened again, as, having watched Lily and her friends disappear within the door of the depot, she turned them the other way to see if new customers were coming.
"There he comes," she said, as her eye fell upon a tall, broad-shouldered gentleman coming down the street, "soldier" written in every line and motion of his figure, from the erect,stately head, down to the ringing, military tread of his firm foot.
"Good afternoon, little woman," he said, returning with a pleasant smile her welcoming look; "is my wife's bouquet all ready?"
Taking from the corner of her basket a bouquet somewhat larger than the rest, and of rather choicer flowers, she held it up to him.
"Thank you, sir," she said, as she received the price; and then, with rising color, added, "would it be too much trouble to carry this to the lady?"
"Too much trouble? No! How much is it?" he said, putting his hand again into his pocket.
"Oh! sir, I didn't mean that. I didn't want to sell it, but to give it to you, if you would take it to the lady you buy flowers for every day. I want to send it to her because you are so kind to me, and because—because you put me in mind of—of somebody."
"That is it, is it?" said the gentleman. "Well, I can't refuse such a pretty gift, so prettily offered. And who do I put you in mind of, pray?"
"Of my papa, sir. You do look like him."
"Humph!" said the gentleman, not much pleased at the idea that he was like the father of this little poor child, above her station though she looked. "And these are daisies, hey? My wife will like them."
"General, do you mean to miss the train?" said an acquaintance, as he passed.
"Not with my own consent, certainly," said the gentleman. "I shall thank you for the lady to-morrow, my little girl."
But as he turned to go, his foot slipped upon a piece of orange-peel, thrown down by some careless person, and he had nearly fallen. He would have been down altogether but for his little companion; but as he involuntarily put out his hand, she caught it; and that support, frail and slight as it was, was sufficient to steady him.
Kind of heart, noble and generous though he was, the soldier was hasty-tempered and quick, and an oath—a fearful oath—burst from his lips.
"Ah, you were my good angel. You have saved me from a bad fall," he said almost in the same breath, but in a very different tone and manner, as he turned to the child.
His good angel! Ah, yes! More than he knew, his good angel. Those little hands should from this time hold him from falling into the sin of which he had just been guilty.
Years ago General Forster would have been shocked at the thought of letting such words escape his lips, though even then he was none too reverent or careful in speaking of sacred persons or things; but in the bustle and excitement of war he had, alas! like many another brave man, allowed himself to fall into the habit of taking God's holy name in vain. But careless though he might be before men in moments of forgetfulness, or when his hasty temper got the better of him, he seldom or never suffered himself to use such words before women or children; why, you shall learn.
"Why, have I hurt you?" he asked, seeing with surprise her startled and troubled face.
"No, sir, oh! no," she answered, catching her breath, "but, but"—
"Well, but what?"
"But I am so sorry;" and that she was so was proved, as she covered her face with her hands and burst into tears.
"Sorry for what?" he asked.
She gave him no answer, but shrank a little away.
"Sorry for what?" he repeated, as if determined to know; and the tone of command, which seemed to say he was used to instant obedience, forced her to speak, whether she would or no.
"Sorry for those words you said, sir," she sobbed.
"Those words? What words?" But his question answered itself as it was spoken; for his wicked words, which but for this would have been forgotten the next instant, came back to him, and he stood rebuked before this poor little flower-girl. He repented already; but repented only because he had distressed this simple child, in whom he took so much interest, not yet because he had grieved and offended the Holy One whose name he had profaned.
Still he was vexed too.
"Why, you don't mean to say," he said rather impatiently, "that you never hear such words as those, standing here as you do, half the day, with those rough men and boys about you?"
"Oh, yes, sir!" she said, plaintively. "I do hear such words, often, often. I try not to; but I can't help it, you see; and it makes me so sorry. But I thought those poor men and boys could not know how to read, and had never been taught better, or perhaps they did not know what God had said in His commandments. But I did not think gentlemen said such things; and I liked you so much."
And did she like him less now? He, the gentleman, the rich man, felt that he could not wish to lose the respect and liking of this little child whom he thought so far beneath him, and he was ashamed and sorry. He knew that it was not impertinence, but only her innocent simplicity and truthfulness, which had caused her to say what she did. But to know that he was in the wrong and to acknowledge it, were one and the same thing with this true-hearted man.
"You are right, Margaret," he said, forgetting how fast the moments were flying. "Gentlemen should not say such things, especially before ladies and children. It is bad manners; but I forgot myself just then."
She took her hands from her face and looked up at him. There was an unspoken question in the clear, earnest eyes, and it was plain that she was not yet satisfied.
"Well," he said smiling at her, "what troubles you still? Let me have it all."
"I was only thinking what difference could it make, sir."
"What difference could what make?"
"Whether it was ladies and children who heard it, sir," she answered timidly. "God hears it all the same, doesn't He? And it can't make any difference to Him who else hears it."
She looked up as she spoke at the blue sky overhead, and the look and the words brought to him a sudden sense of God's constant presence and nearness. He had known it well enough before,—that the Almighty Eye saw him always; that the Almighty Ear heard him always; but he had never felt it as he did now. The gentle, timid reproof had gone far deeper than the little giver had intended, and her hearer felt ashamed that he had confessed to her that he would pay a respect to a woman or child which he did not feel it needful to pay to his Maker. He could make her no answer.
"You behind time, General?" said the voice of another friend as he hurried past; and the scream of the warning whistle told the gentleman that he had no time to lose.
"I'll see you to-morrow. Good-by, my child. God bless you," he said hurriedly, and rushed away.
But just in time; he was the last passenger, and stepped upon the platform of a car as the train was put in motion. The jar threw him once more a little off his balance, and he caught by the rail to save himself, while again hasty, profane words rose to his lips.
But they did not pass them. What though no human ear should hear; "God heard them all the same," and they were checked before even the summer wind could catch them; and in their place the angels carried up the heart-breathed prayer, "God keep me from them in time to come."
His next neighbor in the cars thought General Forster remarkably silent and unsociable that afternoon. He would not talk, but buried himself behind his newspaper. If the neighbor had looked closer he would have seen that the General's eyes were fixed, not on the paper held before his face, but on the little pot of daisies which rested on his knee. And over the delicate pink and white blossoms was breathed a vow,—a vow registered in heaven and faithfully kept on earth.