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Adapted from Choice Stories for Children

Mattie’s Prize

What was Mattie turning over and over in her hand with such delight? Every now and then a ripple of laughter broke from her lips. She was sitting on a stool in the front room, wishing Mother would wake up to hear her good fortune and help her admire this wonderful prize.

It would not do to awaken her, for she was getting over a long, severe sickness. Mattie, though only eight years old, knew that every hour of sleep was bringing her mother nearer to health again. Still, it was trying for her to sit quietly with such a wonderful thing to tell. At last she decided she could not wait any longer, and went to find Aunt Fanny.

Aunt Fanny was getting dinner, but she looked up with a smile as Mattie put her rosy face in at the door.

“Is your mother still asleep, Mattie?” she asked.

“Yes. How has she been feeling today?”

“Better. But what she really needs is a breath of fresh air. A ride would be so wonderful for her right now, but we must give that up.”

“Why, Aunt Fanny?”

“Because we cannot spare the money. You know, dear, your mother’s sickness not only keeps her from her students, but it takes many hours from her sewing. We shall have to live very economically for a long time to keep out of debt. So, you see, we cannot spare five dollars for a ride.”

“Will it cost that much?”

“Yes, Mattie. It’s no use to go for a little city drive. What your mother needs is a good breath of country or sea air, and it will take a long ride to get that. It is such a lovely afternoon, too,” she added regretfully.

“Aunt Fanny, we will go. You get Mamma ready, and I will make the arrangements. What time should we start?”

“It is nearly twelve. Say one o’clock,” said Aunt Fanny as the little girl rushed off.

It was well for the invalid that she was awake when Mattie returned, for her delightful news certainly would not keep much longer. Mother was waiting as impatiently as Aunt Fanny for an explanation, and the happy child was eager to give it.

“We were all in school this morning, Mother, when Miss Stratton told us that some great man—I did not catch his name—was going around the building to see how our school was managed. After a few minutes he came in with four or five other men. We went through some of the exercises and sang for him.

“Then he said: ‘Now I want to hear some of the little girls read aloud. I will give this to the best reader.’ And he held up something, I could not see what.

“Miss Stratton called up five girls to read, and I was among them. When it came my turn, Mother, I remembered all you had told me about punctuation, distinctness, and expression, and I tried my best. I was the last, and when I finished he said, ‘This little girl has fairly earned the prize,’ and he put in my hand—see, Mamma!—a five-dollar bill!”—and Mattie held out her treasure.

“I danced all the way home and found you asleep. Then I sat down and tried to think of all I could buy for five dollars. I wanted to run right out and get you some oranges and grapes and all sorts of good things. I wanted to buy you a new pair of slippers—yours are so shabby. I wanted to get you—”

“Stop, stop, little daughter! Did you not want to buy something for yourself with your five dollars?”

“Oh, Mamma, I have everything I want!”

“I thought I heard a little girl wishing for a new hat and shoes.”

“Oh, the old ones will do! Wouldn’t I look nice,” said Mattie scornfully, “buying myself hats and shoes, when you are sick! Well, I was trying to decide what to buy, and went to ask Aunt Fanny, and she told me about the good a ride would do you. So, Mamma, we will go for a ride down to the seashore, and make you well and strong again.”

“But, Mattie, it seems too bad to take your prize from you so soon.”

“Too bad! As if I cared for the money half as much as I care to get you well! Besides, Mother, if you had not taken so much pains to teach me to read well, I would never have had the prize. So, you see, it is really yours, after all. Now let me help Aunt Fanny dress you. Isn’t it beautiful to see you have a hat on again!”

It would be quite beyond my power of description to give any idea of that ride. The best part of it, for the little girl, was the sight of a faint flush upon her mother’s pale cheeks, a new light in her eyes, a stronger, clearer ring in her weak voice.

After happy, tired Mattie was fast asleep in her own little bed, the mother said: “I was downhearted, Fanny, thinking I must give up the struggle for health; but my little daughter’s gift must be repaid by making every effort to get well again. I will get well for her sake.”

“Yes, indeed,” Aunt Fanny said heartily; “for there are not many little girls who would have no thought of self after winning such a prize.”