In the midst of the shadow over the
household at Ekero, Alma’s birthday had come.
No festivities could be thought of. No birthday
table was decked for her with flowers and gifts.
Her father had not even remembered the fact that
she was now eighteen years old until the evening came
on. The housekeeper, a thorough Swede in all
things, could not forget such an anniversary; but
she was in no mood towards Alma to prompt to any particular
kindness in that direction, or any festal preparations.
The father and daughter were sitting
quietly together in the study in the evening.
“Alma,” he began, “I have just remembered
that it must be your birthday. It has been a
sad, neglected birthday for you, my child; but it
shall not pass altogether without notice. Give
me the jewel-case that has been in your charge, and
the key too, dear. I have, of course, meant
that you should have these things that were so peculiarly
associated with your dear mother’s younger days.
The watch you can wear at once, as your own does
not seem to keep good time. Hers was an excellent
time-keeper, and it will remind you to be exact and
true, and gentle and holy, like your dear mother.
I shall take real pleasure in seeing you wear it.
Go, daughter, at once! I am glad I thought
of something that will please you on your birthday.”
Alma obeyed mechanically, and returned
quickly with the empty case in her hand, hoping that
when the critical moment came she should be able to
explain herself satisfactorily. She gave the
casket into her father’s hands, and waited in
a silence so natural under the circumstances that
he did not notice it.
There was no sparkle from the dark
cushions, but a sudden, astonished sparkle in the
colonel’s eyes. “Empty, Alma!
What does this mean?” he exclaimed.
“I have given them away,”
she said, blushing very deeply.
“Given them away!” repeated
the colonel, slowly and sternly.
“I have given them for a good
object, very dear to my heart. I am sure you
would approve of it. Please, papa, do not ask
me any more about it now. I do not want to tell
you yet. It is a secret. I have promised,
just to myself, and almost to God, never to tell any
one until a certain thing is accomplished until
I can fully succeed.”
“What is the matter with you,
child? Have you lost your senses? You
had no right to give away things intrusted to your
care. I have told you that, by your mother’s
simple will, all she had was left at my disposition.
Am I to be disappointed in both my children?”
and the colonel bowed his head upon his hands.
“Dear papa, you are not to be
disappointed in me! I have done nothing wrong.”
Here Alma’s conscience gave her a sharp prick.
Suddenly she broke out, after a moment’s pause,
“I want to be like the princess. I am
sure that would please you, papa! You know she
sold her jewels for a home for the sick poor.”
The colonel answered seriously:
“The princess is a saintly woman, and you would
do well to follow her example. She sold her jewels
to build a home for the aged sick, but she did not
do it, princess and grown woman as she was, until
she had asked the consent of her mother and her brother
the king. What have you done, my child?
What have you been thinking of? You must explain
yourself fully. I have a right to demand it!”
Alma again left the room, to return
with the little yellow house in her hands. “Here
is my savings-box, papa,” she said; “Nono
made it for me.”
A flush of pleasure came over the
face of the colonel. “So exactly like
Karin’s cottage!” he exclaimed. “What
a clever little boy! I like him.”
“I thought I thought,”
said Alma, encouraged by her father’s smile “I
thought I would like to have a home for sick little
children. I wanted to save my money to do something
really good and lasting, instead of fooling it away
by giving a little here and there, that did not after
all do much good to anybody. I have saved all
I could, and have given nothing away for anything
else, but it went very slowly, and then I thought
of those ornaments that were to be mine, and I
really did not think you would care.”
Here Alma blushed, and added, “I hoped you would
not mind!” and her tears fell fast.
“My poor child!” said
the colonel, as he put his arm around her and drew
her to his side. “So this is the explanation
of the change that had passed over you, and had given
me so much pain! my little Alma, who loved
so dearly to give, and who has lately been so hard
and cold that the very idea of an appeal from a poor
family seemed to close her heart and stiffen her face
into determined opposition. You cannot be a
princess, dear, and do some great thing. I am
afraid there was more pride than holy love in your
plan. You should not think of yourself when
you want to do good, but of your heavenly Master and
his suffering brothers. Remember that!
That was your dear mother’s way. Self
seemed dead in her. If she could but have lived
to teach you by her beautiful example! It is
not in seeking to do some great thing that we are
in the right path. The little things that come
to us day by day and hour by hour are safest for most
Christians, and surely so for beginners. Where
is the key to this locked little house?”
Alma produced the key at once, and
placed it in her father’s hands. He might
open that small door if he pleased. She fancied
it would be almost wrong to do it herself.
The door was opened, and there, among
small coins and great, lay the jewels. The crystal
of the watch had been broken by some falling contribution.
The colonel took the watch in his hand, and said,
“This can easily be repaired.
You must wear it constantly; and may it remind you
that the best gifts to God are those that are offered
humbly, modestly, with no thought of self, and with
no desire for the praise of man. If the little
watch can so remind you of your duty, it will be a
holy messenger to you, and so in a way set apart to
the service of God. You have unwisely given,
as you thought, the diamonds to the poor. We
will not take them back. Your dear mother had
not herself worn them for many years. They shall
be sold, and you may send the money anonymously to
any hospital for children where help is needed.
So you will keep your motives. With the money
lying in the little cottage you can have the joy of
helping the suffering poor; but you had better consult
with me as to how to use it. It is not to be
thrown away now lavishly on every applicant, to do
perhaps more harm than good. Lay the jewels
in the case and lock the door of the little cottage.”
He was going to add, “Remember, Alma, that one
kind word from you to your brother is a better offering
for you than much money given in charity.”
The words were not spoken. He but said, “Poor
Frans! where is he? God help my boy!”
Alma put her arm round her father’s
neck and whispered, “Dear papa, if Frans comes
home when he comes home, I do really mean
to be more kind to him than ever before; but he ”
Alma,” said the father. “However
far wrong your brother has gone, he is still your
brother, your only brother, and it will be your duty
to love him, and pray for him, and watch over him with
tender affection. He has no mother. You
must be to him all that a good sister can be.”
“Papa!” said Alma, deeply
moved, “you are too gentle towards me.
I do not deserve it. I half felt all the while
that I might be doing wrong about those things that
did not really belong to me. I see it now very
plainly. I would not listen to my conscience.
I see I had a foolish pride in what I was trying
to do. I did not see it clearly then, but now
I know I was taking possession of what did not really
belong to me I who have been so angry with
Frans, so ashamed even to think of him as my brother!
I don’t know what I should have been if I had
fallen into temptation, and had had a bad companion
to lead me on! Please, please, papa, forgive
me! I know you do; but I cannot forgive myself!
I am sure the sight of dear mamma’s watch ought
always to make me humble.”
“May God help you and keep you
from all evil!” said the father solemnly, as
he kissed his daughter and bade her good-night.