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Read Ebook: Nelly by Guernsey Lucy Ellen

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Ebook has 966 lines and 45859 words, and 20 pages


This little story is written to illustrate the value of honesty and faithfulness in small and great matters. Nelly's earnings may possibly be considered rather large for a girl of her age; but a lady of much experience, to whom I referred the matter, assures me that they are not exaggerated, and that a perfectly trustworthy clerk is worth almost any price to his or her employers. A woman mostly confined to the bed and sofa earned, in three years, nearly seven hundred dollars by doing the finer and more elaborate kinds of tatting.




"WHAT'S the use?" said Nelly, with a sort of hopeless bitterness in her tone. "There's no use in my ever trying to be anybody!"

Nelly Ryan was leaning against the rickety gate of her grandmother's more rickety cottage, watching a procession of girls about her own age, who were passing on the other side of the street on their way to church. There were about thirty of them, all very nicely dressed, walking two-and-two, and talking quietly to each other. They were the pupils of an old-established boarding-school in the place where Nelly lived; and, as Nelly looked at their dainty, fresh spring dresses and bonnets, their neat boots and gloves, and white collars, and then at her own ragged, faded delaine, her toes peeping out of a pair of old shoes much too large for her, and the tangled, rusty elf-locks of her hair, she felt the contrast very deeply and bitterly. She was a pretty little girl, about thirteen years old, with curly black hair, gray eyes, and a slender but strong and lithe figure. Not one of all the girls she envied could match her in good looks; but her slender hands were grimed and encrusted with dirt, and her face not much better off; her hair looked as if it had hardly known a comb, and her frock was covered with grease and dirt and torn into various stirrups and three-cornered rents. She might have been called a hopeless-looking child enough; and yet there was something in her face that promised better things. She stood looking after the school-girls till they turned a corner, and then, leaning her head against the gate, she cried bitterly but quietly, all the while saying to herself--

"It's too bad! It's too bad! I can't never be anybody or have any thing! It's too bad!"

"What is the matter, little one?" asked a pleasant voice. Nelly glanced up hastily, wiping away her tears with her dirty hands, so that she looked more forlorn than ever. A young lady stood by the gate, regarding her with an expression of interest and sympathy which Nelly felt at once to be genuine. She was nicely and tastefully though not gayly dressed, and in her hand she held a couple of books, and a little nosegay of early spring flowers,--sweet blue and white violets, primroses, periwinkles, and such like,--with a few geranium and ivy leaves.

As Nelly looked up, she repeated her question, adding, "Are you sick?"

"No," stammered Nelly, shyly, hanging down her head.

"What is the matter?" asked the young lady. "I am sure you must be in some trouble, to cry so bitterly."

But Nelly would not tell the cause of her grief, and very likely could not have done so if she had tried.

"Do you go to Sunday-school?" asked the lady.

"No," answered Nelly.

"That is a pity! Why don't you go? I think you would like it very much."

"I haven't got any thing to wear," said Nelly; and, as if gaining confidence, she added, "I went once to the mission school up here, but the girls were all dressed so fine that I felt ashamed. They stared at me; and one of them called me a little rag-bag. I don't never mean to go there no more. What's the use?"

"She was a very impolite little girl," said Miss Powell . "I would not have minded her."

"You would if you was me," said Nelly.

Miss Powell smiled. "Well, perhaps so. We cannot always judge for other people. What is your name?"

"Nelly Ryan."

"And do you live here?" asked the young lady, glancing at the house. Nelly looked at it too, and, somehow, as she followed the direction of Miss Powell's eye, she seemed to see, as she had never done before, what a miserable place it was, how black and dirty the floor looked through the open door, and what quantities of old bones, old shoes and other rubbish were littered about the door-yard. The bitter feeling came up in her heart again, as she answered,--

"Yes; I live here with my grandmother. It is a mean old place, but I can't help it. It's the best we've got, anyhow."

"Well, Nelly, I cannot stop any longer now, but I shall perhaps see you again some day, and we will have a talk about these things." She opened the book which she carried, as she spoke, and took out a beautiful little picture printed in colours and representing a string of girls, something like those Nelly had just seen, passing two-by-two into a church-door. There was a hymn under the picture, and a coloured border all round it.

"Would you like this little card?" she asked.

Nelly's eyes brightened. She thought she had hardly ever seen any thing so pretty.

"You may keep it,--and these flowers too, if you like," said Miss Powell. "They will stay fresh and sweet a long time if you give them clean water every day."

Nelly took the flowers and the card without speaking. Miss Powell bade her good-morning and walked on; but presently she heard some one running behind her, and turned around. There was Nelly, almost out of breath.

"I--I only wanted to say, Thank you, ma'am," stammered Nelly; and then, as though almost ashamed of what she had done, she turned and ran back again.

"That is a child of some character," thought Miss Powell, as she quickened her steps. "I must try to see her again."

"What a nice young lady!" said Nelly to herself, as she presently slackened her pace and went along alternately admiring and smelling her flowers and looking at the picture she still carried in her other hand. Presently she glanced at the back of the card, which was coloured a pretty pink, and noticed, to her great mortification, that her dirty fingers had already left their marks upon the paper. The lump came into her throat again at the sight.

"There it is!" said she. "What is the use of my ever trying to have any thing?" And then she stopped suddenly; for the question occurred to her mind, what was there to hinder her from washing her hands?

Full of a new resolution, Nelly walked straight into the house. It consisted only of one room, with a sort of shed or lean-to attached, and held a bed, an old but tolerably whole cooking-stove, two or three more or less broken chairs, and a rickety table, on which stood the remains, such as they were, of the morning's meal. Her grandmother sat on a low stool by the stove, with her elbows on her knees, smoking a short black pipe. Nelly had been in better rooms a few times in her life, and she felt, as she came in, how forlorn the place looked. Again she was tempted to despair; but she had thought of something to do, and she had a deal of perseverance and energy, though nothing had ever been done to cultivate those qualities. She first took a broken tumbler from the shelf, filled it with clean water, in which she put her flowers, and, placing them on the window-sill, stood looking at them with great satisfaction.

"See, granny; a'n't they lovely?"

"'Deed and they are," replied the old woman. "Where did you get them, honey?"

"A lady gave 'em to me. She gave me this picture, too. Can't you read it, granny? What does it say under there?"

"Sure, child, I've forgot all my learning, and not much there was to forget."

"Why can't I have some learning, granny? Why can't I go to school?"

"And what would become of the cow if ye went to school all day, and me hardly able to move? Don't ye worry about that, now. Your father learned to read and write too, and much good it did him."

Nelly sighed,--a sort of fierce, impatient sigh,--and began busily seeking in every corner till she found a pin with which to fasten her card to the wall. Then she searched again till she found an old basin, which she filled with rain-water and carried out into the shed, where presently was heard a great splashing and rubbing. By-and-by Nelly called out, "Granny, where's the soap?"

"And what do you want with the soap, child?" asked the old woman.

"To wash myself."

"What ails the child this morning?" said Mrs. Ryan, in a tone of as much surprise as if such a use of soap had been utterly unknown to her experience. "You'll find it on the end of the shelf; if there is any; but don't you be wasting it. I'll may-be washing to-morrow."

Then came another inquiry--"Where's the comb, granny?"

Followed by the counter-question--"What do you want with it?"

"I want to comb my hair."

"You are wonderful nate this morning, seems to me," said Mrs. Ryan. "What ails you?"

"I like to be decent sometimes," said Nelly. "I felt ashamed this morning when the lady was speaking to me."

"Sure the lady knows we are poor folks," said Mrs. Ryan, good-naturedly laying down her pipe to assist Nelly in her search for the comb. It was finally discovered behind an old band-box on the shelf; but Nelly found the use of it no easy matter. Her curly hair was matted into a hundred knots; and the more she wetted it, the more it twisted and curled into rings, as if it had been alive.

"Granny, I wish you'd cut my hair short, like Kitty Brown's," said Nelly, finally. "I can't never get the tangles out."

Mrs. Ryan wondered more and more what had suddenly taken possession of her grand-daughter; but she was fond of the child, and willing to gratify her where it was not too much trouble; so she hunted up her scissors and clipped Nelly's black rings close to her head, and proceeded farther to part them evenly upon the top, so that they curled round her face in a way that many a modern young lady might have envied.

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