Amy came in hastily, and looked rather abashed when she saw her sisters all waiting for her.
`Where have you been, and what are you hiding behind you?' asked Meg, surprised to see, by her hood and cloak that lazy Amy had been out so early.
`Don't laugh at me, Jo! I didn't mean anyone should know till the time came. I only meant to change the little bottle for a big one, and I gave all my money to get it, and I'm truly trying not to be selfish any more.'
As she spoke, Amy showed the handsome flask which replaced the cheap one; and looked so earnest and humble her little effort to forget herself that Meg hugged her on spot, and Jo pronounced her in `a trump', while Beth ran to the window and picked her finest rose to ornament the stately bottle.
`You see, I felt ashamed of my present, after reading and talking about being good this morning, so I ran round the corner and changed it the minute I was up; and I'm so glad, for mine is the handsomest now.'
Another bang of the street door sent the basket under the sofa, and the girls to the table, eager for breakfast.
`Merry Christmas, Marmee! Many of them! Thank you for our books; we read some, and mean to, every day,' they cried, in chorus.
`Merry Christmas, little daughters! I'm glad you began at once, and hope you will keep on. But I want to say one word before we sit down. Not far away from here lies a poor woman with a little new-born baby. Six children are huddled into one bed to keep from freezing, for they have no fire. There is nothing to eat over there; and the oldest boy came to tell me they were suffering hunger and cold. My girls, will you give them your breakfast as a Christmas present?'
They were all unusually hungry, having waited nearly an hour, and for a minute no one spoke; only a minute, for Jo exclaimed impetuously:
`I'm so glad you came before we began!'
`May I go and help carry the things to the poor little children?' said Beth, eagerly.
`I shall take the cream and the muffins,' added Amy, heroically, giving up the articles she most liked.
Meg was already covering the buckwheats, and piling the bread into one big plate.
`I thought you'd do it,' said Mrs. March, smiling as if satisfied. `You shall all go, and help me, and when we come back we will have bread and milk for breakfast, and make it up at dinner-time.'
They were soon ready, and the procession set out. Fortunately it was early, and they went through back streets, few people saw them, and no one laughed at the queer party.
A poor, bare, miserable room it was, with broken windows, no fire, ragged bed-clothes, a sick mother, wailing baby, and a group of pale, hungry children cuddled under one old quilt, trying to keep warm.
How the big eyes stared and blue lips smiled as the girl went in!
`Ach, mein Gott! it is good angels come to us!' said in poor woman, crying for joy.
`Funny angels in hoods and mittens,' said Jo and set them laughing.
In a few minutes it really did seem as if kind spirits had been at work there. Hannah, who had carried wood, made a fire, and stopped up the broken panes with old hats an her own cloak. Mrs. March gave the mother tea and gruel and comforted her with promises of help, while she dressed the little baby as
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