The Little Sisters by Unknown

[Illustration: "<i>You were not here yesterday</i>."]

"You were not here yesterday," said the gentle teacher of the little village school, as she placed her hand kindly on the curly head of one of her pupils. It was recess time, but the little girl had not gone to frolic away the ten minutes, she had not even left her seat, but sat absorbed in a seemingly vain attempt to make herself mistress of an example in long division.

Her face and neck crimsoned at the remark of her teacher, but looking up, she seemed somewhat reassured by the kind glance that met her, and answered:—

"No, ma'am, I was not, but sister Nelly was."

"I remember there was a little girl who called herself Nelly Gray, who came in yesterday, but I did not know she was your sister. But why did you not come? You seem to love to study very much."

"It was not because I didn't want to," was the earnest answer, and then she paused and the deep flush again tinged her fair brow; "but," she continued after a moment of painful embarrassment, "mother can not spare both of us conveniently, and so we are going to take turns. I'm going to school one day, and sister the next, and to-night I'm to teach Nelly all I have learned to-day, and to-morrow night she will teach me all that she learns while here. It's the only way we can think of getting along, and we want to study very much, so that sometime we will be able to teach school ourselves, and take care of mother, because she has to work very hard to take care of us."

"The teacher asked no more questions, but sat down beside her, and in a moment explained the rule over which she was puzzling her young brain, so that the hard example was easily finished.

"You would better go out and take the air a few moments; you have studied very hard to-day," said the teacher, as the little girl put aside the slate.

[Illustration: <i>"The teacher sat down beside her and explained the
rule."</i>]

"I would rather not,—I might tear my dress,—I will stand by the window and watch the rest." The dress was nothing but a cheap calico, but it was neatly made and had never been washed. While looking at it, she remembered that during the whole previous fortnight, she had never seen her wear but that one dress. "She is a thoughtful little girl," said she to herself, "and does not want to made her mother any trouble. I wish I had more such scholars."

The next morning Mary was absent, but her sister occupied her seat, There was something so interesting in the two little sisters, the one eleven, and the other eighteen months younger, agreeing to attend school by turns, that the teacher noticed them very closely.

They were pretty faced children, of delicate forms, the elder with dark eyes and chestnut curls, the other with eyes like the sky of June, her white neck covered by a wealth of golden ringlets. The teacher noticed in both, the same close attention to their studies, and as Mary stayed indoors during recess, so did Nelly; and upon speaking to her as she had to her sister, she received the same answer, "I might tear my dress."

The reply caused Miss M—— to notice the dress of her sister. She saw at once that it was of the same piece as Mary's, in fact, she became certain that it was the same dress. It did not fit quite so nicely on Nelly, and was too long for her, and she was evidently ill at ease when she noticed her teacher looking at the bright pink flowers that were so thickly set on the white ground.

The discovery was one that could not but interest the teacher. Though short of means herself, that same night she purchased a dress of the same material for little Nelly, and made arrangements with the merchant to send it to her in such a way that the donor need never be known.

Very bright and happy looked Mary Gray on Friday morning, as she entered the school at an early hour. She waited only to place her books in neat order in her desk, ere she approached the teacher, and whispering in a voice that laughed in spite of her efforts to make it low and deferential.

"After this week sister Nelly is coming to school every day, and oh, I am so glad!"

"That is very good news," replied the teacher kindly. "Nelly is fond of her books, I see, and I am happy to know that she can have an opportunity to study them every day."

Then she continued, a little good-natured mischief in her eyes,—"But can your mother spare you both conveniently?"

"Oh, yes, ma'am, yes ma'am, she can now. Something happened that she didn't expect, and she is as glad to have us come as we are to do so." She hesitated a moment, but her young heart was filled to the brim with joy, and when a child is happy, it is as natural to tell the cause as it is for a bird to warble when the sun shines. So out of the fullness of her heart she spoke and told her teacher this little story:—

She and her sister were the only children of a poor widow, whose health was so delicate that it was almost impossible to support herself and daughters. She was obliged to keep them out of school all winter, as they had no suitable clothes to wear, but she told them that if they could earn enough to buy each of them a new dress, by doing odd chores for the neighbors, they might go in the spring.

Very earnestly had the little girls improved their stray chances, and very carefully hoarded the copper coins which usually repaid them. They had nearly saved enough to buy a dress, when Nelly was taken sick, and as the mother had no money beforehand, poor Nelly's money had to be used for medicine.

"Oh, I did feel so bad when school opened and Nelly could not go, because she had no dress," said Mary. "I told mother I wouldn't go either, but she said I would better, for I could teach sister some, and it would be better than no schooling.

"I stood it for a fortnight, but Nelly's little face seemed all the time looking at me on the way to school, and I couldn't be happy a bit, so I finally thought of a way by which we could both go. I told mother I would come one day, and the next I would lend Nelly my dress and she might come; that's the way we have done, this week. But last night, don't you think, somebody sent sister a dress just like mine, and now she can come too.

"Oh, if I only knew who it was, I would get down on my knees and thank them, and so would Nelly. But we don't know, and so we've done all we could for them,—we've prayed for them,—and Oh, Miss M——, we are all so glad now. Aren't you too?"

"Indeed I am," was the emphatic answer.

The following Monday, little Nelly, in the new pink dress, entered the schoolroom with her sister. Her face was as radiant as a rose in sunshine, and approaching the teacher's table, she exclaimed:—

"I am coming to school every day, and oh, I am so glad!"

The teacher felt as she had never done before, that it is "more blessed to give than to receive." No millionaire, when he saw his name in public prints, lauded for his thousand dollar charities, was ever so happy as the poor school-teacher who wore her gloves half a summer longer than she ought, and thereby saved enough to buy that little fatherless girl a calico dress.

[Illustration: <i>"Nellie entered the schoolroom with her sister."</i>]