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The New-Year’s Gift
by [?]

Papa and mamma behaved with the utmost circumspection and discretion, and though surrounded on all sides by such pitfalls and labyrinths of mystery, moved about with an air of the most unconscious simplicity possible.

But little Ally, from her privileged character, became a very spoil-sport in the proceedings. Her small fingers were always pulling open parcels prematurely, or lifting pocket handkerchiefs ingeniously thrown down over mysterious articles, and thus disconcerting the very profoundest surprises that ever were planned; and were it not that she was still within the bounds of the kingly state of babyhood, and therefore could be held to do no wrong, she would certainly have fallen into general disgrace; but then it was “Ally,” and that was apology for all things, and the exploit was related in half whispers as so funny, so cunning, that Miss Curlypate was in nowise disconcerted at the head shakes and “naughty Allys” that visited her offences.

“What dis?” said she, one morning, as she was rummaging over some packages indiscreetly left on the sofa.

“O Emma! see Ally!” exclaimed Eliza, darting forward; but too late, for the flaxen curls and blue eyes of a wax doll had already appeared.

“Now she’ll know all about it,” said Eliza, despairingly.

Ally looked in astonishment, as dolly’s visage promptly disappeared from her view, and then turned to pursue her business in another quarter of the room, where, spying something glittering under the sofa, she forthwith pulled out and held up to public view a crochet bag sparkling with innumerable steel fringes.

“O, what be dis!” she exclaimed again.

Miss Emma sprang to the rescue, while all the other children, with a burst of exclamations, turned their eyes on mamma. Mamma very prudently did not turn her head, and appeared to be lost in reflection, though she must have been quite deaf not to have heard the loud whispers–“It’s mamma’s bag! only think! Don’t you think, Tom, Ally pulled out mamma’s bag, and held it right up before her! Don’t you think she’ll find out?”

Master Tom valued himself greatly on the original and profound ways he had of adapting his presents to the tastes of the receiver without exciting suspicion: for example, he would come up into his mother’s room, all booted and coated for a ride to town, jingling his purse gleefully, and begin,–

“Mother, mother, which do you like best, pink or blue?”

“That might depend on circumstances, my son.”

“Well, but, mother, for a neck ribbon, for example; suppose somebody was going to buy you a neck ribbon.”

“Why, blue would be the most suitable for me, I think.”

“Well, but mother, which should you think was the best, a neck ribbon or a book?”

“What book? It would depend something on that.”

“Why, as good a book as a fellow could get for thirty-seven cents,” says Tom.

“Well, on the whole, I think I should prefer the ribbon.”

“There, Ned,” says Tom, coming down the stairs, “I’ve found out just what mother wants, without telling her a word about it.”

But the crowning mystery of all the great family arcana, the thing that was going to astonish papa and mamma past all recovery, was certain projected book marks, that little Ally was going to be made to work for them. This bold scheme was projected by Miss Emma, and she had armed herself with a whole paper of sugar plums, to be used as adjuvants to moral influence, in case the discouragements of the undertaking should prove too much for Ally’s patience.

As to Ally, she felt all the dignity of the enterprise–her whole little soul was absorbed in it. Seated on Emma’s knee, with the needle between her little fat fingers, and holding the board very tight, as if she was afraid it would run away from her, she very gravely and carefully stuck the needle in every place but the right–pricked her pretty fingers–ate sugar plums–stopping now to pat Rover, and now to stroke pussy–letting fall her thimble, and bustling down to pick it up–occasionally taking an episodical race round the room with Rover, during which time Sister Emma added a stitch or two to the work.