She was struggling among the lily leaves, the water was in her eyes, her ears, her mouth; she was dragging up the white, gasping Bobby, who suddenly seemed to weigh a hundred pounds at least.
It was a pale, drenched, shivering, almost fainting little Lisbeth that staggered up to Mrs. Burns, holding chubby Bobby in her thin brown arms.
"My baby, my baby!" cried Mrs. Burns, who was standing at the gate talking to the friendly visitor who had stopped to inquire about the good woman's little ones.
"Holy Mother, what has happened to my baby?"
"He fell - in - the lily pond," said Lisbeth.
"The lily pond!" cried the frightened mother, snatching the still gasping Bobby from Lisbeth's hold. "It's drowned he is, my baby, my baby, that I though was sleeping safe in the room beyond!" Oh, God forgive me for turning my back on him while I did the work! My Bobby drowned, dead, drowned!"
Dead! Drowned! the words pierced through the dull ringing in Lisbeth's ear like a sharp pain. Drowned! She sank back against the gate-post dizzy and faint.
Mrs. Burns had rushed into the house with Bobby, forgetful in her fright of the drenched, chilled little girl without.
"My poor child," said a kind voice, "you are cold and wet yourself; you must go in and get dry and warm."
Lisbeth lifted her despairing eyes to meet the gaze that turned upon her in the chapel yesterday. For Mrs. Burns' visitor was Father Francis, who often went about in this friendly fashion to visit the lowly homes of his flock.
"Bobby is drowned," said Lisbeth dully; "and it was my fault."
"Not at all," was the cheery answer.
"Listen to that." From the open door came a reassuring sound of Bobby roaring with renewed strength as his mother rubbed him into warmth and life.
"He is all right," said Father Francis, smiling into the blank, bewildered little face that looked up into his own.
"Come in and see." And he led Lisbeth into the kitchen, where, rolled in a soft blanket, Bobby lay rosy and happy in his mother's lap.
"Lisbeth! Lisbeth!" cried that good woman. "I was forgetting you entirely, darlint, in my fright. And you all wet and cold from saving the child! God bless ye for it, darlint! It was His mercy that sent ye from the old house below in time to save my baby's life."
"It was, indeed," said Father Francis. "Bobby owes you his life, my good, brave little girl."
"He does, he does!" sobbed Mrs. Burns. "I'll never forget ye for the heart-scald you've saved me to-day, Lisbeth.
"Lone and lorn as she has been raised in the old house beyond, with that old wild cat of a grandmother (God forgive me for giving he that name, there's not a better little girl in all your parish than this same Lisbeth, Father Francis."
"I am sure of it," said Father Francis.
"Oh no, no, no," burst forth Lisbeth. 'I'm not good, I'm not good, I'm not true. I did not want to mind Bobby this morning - and I - I ran away to play."
"There, there," soothed the astonished Mrs. Burns as Lisbeth dropped on her knees beside her, and burying her face in Bobby's blanket sobbed out her childish guilt and greif. "Sure, there's no call for you to cry like this, darlint. The little rascal stole off to the pond when I thought I had him safe asleep. I forgot ye weren't there to watch him.
"Ye, see it's a bargain Lisbeth and me have betwixt us, Father," explained Mrs. Burns. "She is to mind Bobby every Tuesday morning while I do my wash, and I sent her home to-day because the poor old grandmother was down with the rheumatism."
"Oh, but she isn't, she isn't," sobbed Lisbeth. "She had gone off to Top Notch to the boys and didn't want me at all. I fooled you, I cheated you, i wasn't true. I let Bobby nearly drown in the pond while I took my new doll far out in the woods to play."
"The Lord save us!" said Mrs. Burns, amazed, while Father Francis stood by looking with pitying eyes on the sobbing little penitent. "I'd never have thought such tricks of you. Lisbeth, never. And what brought ye back in time to save Bobby from the pond below?"
"I - I don't know," faltered Lisbeth, lifting her tearful, bewildered face. "Something seemed whispering to me that I was bad, that I was cheating, that it was like telling a story to let you think I had gone home to Gran when I was out there at play. I felt I must come back and mind Bobby, as I promised, or our Lord would not bless me this evening when I to to Church with the other little girls, that He would not like to see my flowers on the altar if I wasn't good and true. So I came back."
"Just in time," said Father Francis, and his voice was very low and gentle as he laid his hand on Lisbeth's head. "Ah, my little child, if you had not listened to that whisper in your heart, little Bobby would be lying white and cold under the lily leaves now."
"Sure he would, he would," said Mrs. Burns, beginning to sob again as she hugged the round-eyed Bobby to her mother's heart. "Blessed be the Lord that spared him to me."
"Meantime this poor little girl who saved him is faint, and chilled, and wet," said Father Francis. "You must get her something warm to drink and wear, and put her to bed for a couple of hours at least, Mrs. Burns. And then - then if you feel well enough - come to Church with the other little girls, my child. Do not fear, our Lord is blessing you, teaching you, leading you, little Lisbeth. Listen to His wise speaking in your heart always as you listened to day."
So after all it was a pleasant day for Lisbeth. Mrs. Burns tucked her away in her own nice bed, and gave her warm mil to drink, and she drifted off into a dreamland where all the white violets were walking in lines with veils on their heads, singing the hymn that the little girls had sun in the chapel yesterday. Lisbeth could remember only two lines:
"Teach us, dearest Lord, to love Thee,
Make our hearts 'Thine own."
She woke - to find Mrs. Burns bending over her, a loving mother-look on her kind face.
"It's the beautiful things you were singing in your sleep, Lisbeth," she said softly. "But it's time to wake up now. I've dried and pressed all your clothes, and the blue gingham is all ready for the wearing. Bobby is as well as ever again. And I went down to the lily pond and found her" -- Mrs. Burns pointed to Endora, staring with wide-open eyes from the foot of the bed.
"She was caught among the lily pads, not a whit the worse for it."
"Oh, Mrs. Burns, dear Mrs. Burns, I thought Endora was gone forever," said Lisbeth. "You're too good to me, dear Mrs. Burns."
"Not a bit of it," was the warm-hearted answer. "Look at that now," and she pointed to Bobby, safely tied in his high chair sucking a chicken bone. "Think where he would have been this minute if you had not come back to him. Lisbeth, if you had played off in the woods all day long, and not come back to do your work and keep your word - ah, it's the broken hearted mother I'd be this day with my dead baby in my arms - if you had not come back, little Lisbeth."
* * *
"Who is the little girl that lives down in the Brambles near Mrs. Burns?" Father Francis asked Sister Angela when he came to St. Mary's that afternoon.
"Lisbeth," said Sister Angela a little anxiously. "I was going to speak to you about her, Father . It has been scarcely three months since I found her - pitifully friendless, neglected, in the hands of a rough, hard old woman. The poor child had never heard, save with fierce, wicked words, the name of God."
"Is it possible?" said Father Francis wonderingly as he thought of the sobbing little penitent at good Mrs. Burns knee. "And she comes from that old ruined house in the Brambles. I have heard the St. Vincent de Paul men speak of it. It has a very bad name. That child comes from there - and three months, only three months, you have her here?"
"Oh, Father," interrupted Sister Angela with a trembling little catch in her voice, "I was afraid - you would not approve of my haste. But poor little Lisbeth has come to me every day; she has learned so quickly, so eagerly. She is like a parched flower drinking in rain and dew. And her poor little lonely, loveless heart seems turning to our Lord as a sunflower turns to the sun. And so I put her in the First Communion class, Father - but Mother told me I must speak to you about her. It has been all so hurried, she says; the child has come out of such pagan darkness; it is too soon for her to make her First Communion, she thinks, far too soon."
"Not at all," answered Father Francis with quick decision. "Not at all, my dear Sister. I have seen you little Lisbeth; read with an old priest's eyes her childish heart. Let her come to our Lord with the other little ones. Already she has learned to know Him, to love Him, to listen to His voice. It is all He asks, dear Sister, as we know."
And so Lisbeth, who after her pleasant rest at Mrs. Burns felt quite bright and happy again, took her place with the rest of the little girls in the chapel, and listened to Father Francis' talk. He told them stories to-day beautiful, true stories, that held his listeners breathless with interest - of Pancratius, Tarcisius, Agnes - little boys and girls of long ago who loved our Lord so much that they died rather than offend or deny Him; of the dark passageways under the earth where Mass was aid and First Communions given to little children, making them so brave and strong that they gave up their young lives without fear.
And Lisbeth, who had lived in wholesome dread of the bears and wild cats that still lurked on the heights of Top Notch, thrilled with terror at the story of young Pancratius facing the lions and panthers of the Roman circus with a happy smile; of Agnes bending her golden head beneath the soldier's axe; of Tarcisius dying under brutal blows in defence of the Sacred Host he was clasping to his boyish breast.
"Such things are not asked of you now, my dear little ones," said Father Francis as he saw the wide-open eyes of Lisbeth fixed upon his face, and thought of the old dark house and its evil name. "There are no wild beasts or sharp swords to fear now. But even little children must be brave and strong, still. Brave to do what is right and good, no matter how hard it seems; to tell the truth when a little lie seems easiest and best; to bear blame, and even pain, rather than offend that Blessed Lord for whom these little martyrs of long ago gave their blood and their lives.
"You are not asked to die for Him in these happy days, but to live for Him, my children, and whatever comes to us we must be brave and strong enough for that."
And then the little talk was over, and the children who had heard of Agnes, and Pancratius, and many other martyrs before, scattered gleefully to play. Only Lisbeth lingered thoughtfully in the chapel, where the white violets still bent their heads in the silver bowl upon the altar.
Wild beasts and swords and blows! Oh, how could those brave little saints of long ago have faced them, borne them, she wondered. "Oh, I couldn't do it, I couldn't die, I am afraid," she whispered to herself.
"But I can live for our Lord, as Father Francis says, and I will - I will!"