Now that' the days were bright and long, there was plenty of time to ramble out in the woods that, after all, are the biggest and best playgrounds a little girl can have when spring is working sweet wonders in trees and grass and flowers. And Lisbeth was free today — Gran had limbered up her stiff knees with the bottle of medicine and gone up to Top Notch. Gran's heart and thought were always up on Top Notch with her boys. .Why they lived up there instead of at the Brambles Lisbeth did not know. It was a long, steep way for poor Gran to go, for she came back fierce and tired and cross, and cried out in her sleep as i f she was frightened or afraid. But she brought money with her to buy sugar and flour and meal and tea.
Lisbeth was too young and innocent to guess the truth, that the boys were wild, bad men, hiding up on the rough heights of Top Notch so that they could break the laws and make money by wrong, forbidden ways. Only in the dark nights of winter, when the roads were blocked with ice and snow, dared the boys venture home. Now that all the dim ways of the Brambles had opened into light and beauty, they feared to come. And Uncle Lem, the wildest, the dearest, the youngest of Gran's boys, had been sick of late with a fever, and Gran had to go help him, cost what it might. But little Lisbeth knew nothing of all this. Gran was afraid of her childish "prattling ," and so kept the boys' troubles to herself, only taking it out on the poor little girl by being rougher, crosser than ever in her mother's grief and pain.
So it was with a glad, light heart that Lisbeth shut the door of the big black kitchen and felt that she had this whole bright May day free. No water to draw, no fire to make, no floors to scrub, no dinner to cook, there was some cold corn bread and ajar of milk — that would be quite enough for her — above all no Gran to nag and scold and cuff her. A whole long, bright day! "Stay home, Dirck ," she said to the big dog who followed her to the broken gate. "You must stay home and keep house, I 'm going to take my new doll out for a walk. She has never been out in the country before, have you, Endora? I am going t o show her the brook, and the birds' nest, and the frogs. We are going to pick white violets -- oh, we are going to do so many nice things, and then — then we are going to St. Mary's and to church and to Alma's. Oh, I never thought I would have such good things happen to me," murmured Lisbeth as she went skipping along over the rough, weedgrown road. " I never thought I would go to a garden school and a beautiful church; I never thought I would have a lovely, lovely doll, like this, with lace on her skirt and a real hat, and eyes that go to sleep; I never thought a nice little girl like Alma would ask me to play with her; I never thought I would have such happy, happy times as I am having now." And with her heart singing this glad, grateful little song, Lisbeth went skipping on through the dark shadowy woods until the low roof of a little cottage showing under the trees made her suddenly pause. "Oh, Endora, I forgot," she whispered with a quick-drawn breath. " I forgot Bobby Burns. It's Bobby Burns' day." Mrs. Burns was the nearest neighbor to Gran. She lived where the Brambles opened into a soft little glen, that had been, cleared of thorns and briers, and she had a nice garden patch, half a dozen speckled hens, and a cow. She had tow-headed Billy , who tended the cow and brought Gran every day a can of milk. And last but not least, she had Bobby -- kicking, crowing Baby Bobby — just old enough to tumble into, the wash boiler and tip over the milk pans and catch at everything — from pins to scrubbing powder -- his fat hands could reach. There was never the likes of him , "rosy Mrs. Burns groaned one day as she turned from her wash tub to take the drenched, spluttering Bobby from Lisbeth, who had just picked him out of the rain barrel. " I can't turn my back five minutes to hang out my clothes." "Oh, Mrs. Burns," said Lisbeth, who was looking wistfully at the snowy pieces hanging out on her neighbor's line, "I'll come and take care of Bobby every day that you wash, if you'll do up one of my nice dresses every week for me. I can't do them myself." "You poor darling, I don't suppose you can," said the good woman warmly. " And you should have those pretty frocks the Sister gave you ironed right." So the bargain was made.
Bobby's mother laundered Lisbeth's pretty new dresses, and Bobby kicked and tumbled,
safe from harm, under his little nurse's watchful eye for the best part of a bright day every week. And this was Bobby's day. Reluctantly poor little Lisbeth turned to the house, where Mrs. Burns was already up to her elbows in soapsuds, and Lisbeth's blue gingham with its white braid and buttons was being rubbed and rubbed by a skillful hand. "Ah, it's you, Lisbeth — I thought you were not coming," said the good woman. "Your poor old grandmother was bad last night, as Billy said. If she wants you at home today you need not come. I wouldn't be taking you from her when she is crippled up. Bobby and I will get along without you if you're wanted at home." The truth rose to Lisbeth's lips and stopped there — held by the thought that she could escape, could have the long, happy day without work or care. Gran was away at Top Notch; Gran did not want her; no one needed her at home. But — she would not tell; she would just slip away from Bobby—tiresome, teasing, kicking Bobby--to the brook, the woods, for this whole lovely morning—she would not nurse Bobby today. "Run off home with yourself, back to the poor old woman," continued Mrs. Burns. "I know what it is to be down with the rheumatism myself. It's the good little girl you are, I know, and the Lord's blessing will be on you for all your patience with the poor old soul. And there's some nice ginger cookies on the table that you can take with you for your lunch." At these kind words, the truth again leaped to Lisbeth's lips, and again it stopped. She ought to stay; she ought to help Mrs. Burns with naughty Bobby; she ought to pay for the blue gingham the good woman was washing so carefully for her lest it should fade or streak. She would have it ironed this evening, just as if it were new. "Me want Libby," said Bobby, dropping the clothespins that for the moment had kept him quiet. "Me wants the pitty doll, me wants Libby to play wif me." "You can't have her this morning, for she is wanted at home. Run off with yourself before he begins t o screech for ye, Lisbeth dear. Run off — " And Lisbeth ran off at the word, ran off with Bobby's piercing screech already sounding in her ear, for her free, happy day.
The sunbeams were dancing through the arching trees, the birds were singing, gay little squirrels were frisking over the leafy boughs, the pink laurel was in bloom, but when at last Lisbeth reached the soft, mossy banks of the brook and paused to rest, the bright, beautiful world around her seemed to have lost something of its charm. Now, though naughty Bobby's tyrant screech could no longer be heard, another voice seemed whispering to her — whispering clearer than the brook tumbling so joyously at her feet whispering to her heart. "Lisbeth, Lisbeth," it seemed to say, "is our Lord blessing you today, as kind Mrs. Burns said?" "Cheating, shirking little Lisbeth, are you pleasing Him today?" " Lisbeth — Lisbeth — Lisbeth, are you doing right today? Are you good and true today?" "I did not tell a story," said Lisbeth as with Endora in her arms she sat down on a moss-grown rock. "I did not tell Mrs. Burns Gran wanted me at home. I did not say a word, did I , Endora?" Endora stared blankly; a little bird perched on a twig across the brook gave a low tweet, tweet, as it flew away; a hoarse ker-plung came from the grandfather frog. Last summer Lisbeth would have heard nothing more — but now, now her little soul had been wakened, and the voice in her heart kept whispering in spite of bird and breeze. "You did not tell a story, Lisbeth, but were you true to Mrs. Burns— real, real true? Are you a good little girl, as she said? Is our Lord blessing you today as He blessed the little children long ago?"
Lisbeth jumped up from the rock, and 'leaving Endora in her place began to pick violets, the shy little violets that starred the brook's mossy banks. She had taken a big bunch to St. Mary's yesterday. "But they won't show much," she said as she handed them to Sister Angela for the May altar. . "Maybe not, Lisbeth, but our Lord can see, and I think He likes them best, these shy little flowers that do not show; so I am going to put them at His feet." And while the lilacs and the snowballs the other girls had brought from their mothers' gardens stood high and beautiful on the altar vases, Lisbeth's violets filled a low silver bowl before the tabernacle, their white heads bent, their sweet breath rising as if in whispered prayer. At His feet, Sister Angela had said Lisbeth's little wood flowers were, at our Lord's feet. They would be there still when she knelt this afternoon before the altar--
a naughty little Lisbeth who had not been true. ,
Oh, Lisbeth could not stand the chiding voice any longer. "I'm going back," she said, catching up Endora from the rock. "I'm going back to take care of Bobby. I'm going back to
Mrs. Burns and be good and true." And Lisbeth went hurrying on along the brookside; that was the shortest if roughest way, for her slim brown feet were bare today, and she could wade the shallows, skip and jump the rocks as she^ pleased. Bramble brook was a frolicsome little stream that all the gloom and loneliness around it could not tame. Only the icy grip of Jack Frost could hold it silent and still. Now, with the soft spring rains of the last six weeks, with all the drip andtrickle from the rocks and ridges of Top Notch, it was full to the very brim, widening here and there into pools deep and clear, and fringed with the wide leaves of water lilies, that a little later would bloom out white and sweet. Then Lisbeth would have flowers for the altar indeed, flowers that would outshine all the garden blossoms the nicest little girls could bring. But one must skip carefully about the lily ponds.' The banks hidden by the spreading leaves were slippery, the water was deep.
Long ago, Mrs. Burns had told her that when Thornwood was in its glory and pride swans had floated among the lily leaves. Lisbeth started forward eagerly as she caught a glimpse of something white^among them now. Then her heart seemed to jump to her lips and hold her speechless—breathless: For it was Bobby! Bobby in the little white slip in which he took his noonday nap! Bobby, bare-legged and barefooted, runaway baby! Bobby among the lily pads, on these slippery, dangerous banks! And before Lisbeth could reach him — cry to him — there was a swish, a tumble, and Bobby was down and in — flat on his little back in the water, too frightened to struggle or scream.
To be continued . . . . . . .