For St. Mary's garden was all abloom now. There were jonquils and tulips, St. Joseph's lilies, great bushes of snowballs — all the first sweet flowers of spring. And it seemed as if little Lisbeth too — pale little thorn flower that she had been — was opening into sweeter, brighter bloom. The soul that had been sleeping so dully was waking into strange, beautiful life.
Poor little Lisbeth had never had lessons before — no one had ever told her stories or sung her songs. She seemed to drink in Sister Angela's teaching as the flowers drink the dew. She had learned a great deal now; she had listened with wonder and delight to the sweet story of the Divine Babe, born in the stable of Bethlehem, while the angels filled the midnight skies with music, and kings came from the far-off countries to lay their gifts at His feet. Lisbeth had never known what Christmas really meant until now; it had only been a time when the boys came home with a wild turkey to cook for dinner, and Uncle Lem had bought her the tin horn and a doll. So with her eager little face uplifted to her gentle teacher, her soft eyes shining, Lisbeth listened day after day to the lessons that told her of our dear Lord's life on earth.
And before the roses began to bud in St. Mary's garden, she had heard with breathless wonder how He lives on the altar to bless and love His poor earth children still, how He comes to them in Holy Communion, to make their hearts and souls His own.
"Would He come to a poor little girl like me?" asked Lisbeth tremulously.
"Yes," answered Sister Angela.
"A little girl that lives in the Brambles and ain't pretty and nice like the rest?" said Lisbeth.
"Ah, my little Lisbeth, yes. All our Lord asks is a little soul without stain of sin, a little heart that loves Him.
"When the roses bloom all my little children are going to Him, and you shall go with the rest." ,
And the next afternoon Sister Angela led her little garden pupil into the convent chapel, where the sunlight streamed through a painted window upon the altar with its candles and flowers, upon the swinging lamp that burned before it like a star, upon the little girls sitting in rows, while Father Francis talked to them in his kind old voice of our dear Lord and His love.
"He loves you more than your father, more than even your dear, sweet mother can love her little child. He wants you to come as the little children in the days of His earthly life came to His arms and to His heart.
"Do not keep them from Me," He said when the disciples would have turned the little ones away. And to us priests He says the same thing:
"Do not keep them from Me until they grow old and wise" until they know all the big words in the Catechism. "Let the little ones come to Me now, with their white souls Unstained by sin — their little hearts loving and trusting and pure."
That same dear Lord, who called the children on the hills of Judea long ago, who took them in His arms and blessed them, is calling you today, to kneel at His altar to receive Him in that Blessed Sacrament in which He lives still on earth, as truly and really as when He took the little Jewish children to His loving heart two thousand years ago.
"And though you cannot see Him now, though you cannot hear His voice as they did, though you cannot feel His divine hands laid on your heads, He will be with you in Holy Communion, blessing you, loving you, as He blessed and loved them. For He has told us so, and we believe His every word, for He is our Lord and our God."
Lisbeth's heart seemed to beat quickly and as she listened, the soft eyes, hidden by the sun-bonnet, shone with a new, glad light. It was such a wonderful thing to sit here in the beautiful chapel, with all these "nice" little girls, and feel that she would be loved and blessed with the rest. That night Lisbeth sat on the broken kitchen step long after the stars came out, thinking of all that Father Francis had said.
"They must be very good children," he had told them. The white dress, the beautiful wreath and veil they would wear on their First Communion day were only signs of the spotless purity of their little souls. And then Father Francis had told them how children sometimes stained these little white souls with anger, with jealousy, with unkind words to their playmates, with disobedience, with untruths. Untruths! Lisbeth thought of this word more than all the rest as she sat on the doorstep tonight. Untruths — that meant telling stories, and poor little Lisbeth had escaped many a hard word and blow by telling stories in the past.
It had been so easy to say that Dirck had broken the cracked pitcher, that Tabby had turned over the bowl of milk, that Bobby Burns had left the gate open for the chickens to stray. In her fear of cross old Gran such little lies had popped from Lisbeth's lips almost without a thought. But now, now, never would she tell a story again, let Gran scold and beat as she might — never, never again.
And Lisbeth went to her narrow little bed to dream beautiful dreams of the chapel, of the altar, of the white angels kneeling on each side of the great painted window that showed the Good Shepherd bringing the lost lamb home.
Three times a week Sister Angela's First Communion class gathered in the convent chapel, the little fair-haired girl in the pretty blue hat sitting next to Lisbeth and making room for her on the bench with a friendly smile. But on the fourth day she was not there and the shy little stranger from the Brambles missed the bright, roguish face that had looked so pleasantly into her own. Lisbeth had to stop at the drug store this afternoon, to buy a bottle of medicine for Gran's rheumatism, and she was going home by another street — a street into which she seldom turned. It was wide and shaded, and great houses stood back in beautiful grounds, behind high iron gates.
Lisbeth was hurrying along with her medicine bottle, the picture book which Sister Angela had lent her under her arm, when a white kitten scurrying along the sidewalk nearly threw her off her feet.
"Oh, my kitty, my kitty!" cried an eager young voice. "Catch it for me, oh, catch it, please!" Lisbeth made a quick grasp, and soon had the furry, mewing little ball in her hold. The iron gate of one of the big places swung open, and her friendly little neighbor of the convent chapel came running out.
"Oh, my kitty, my naughty kitty, thank you so much for catching her; she slipped away from me before I could open the gate. Oh, my bad little kitty, to run away like that!"
"Take care," said Lisbeth, who knew the ways of kittens. "She will scratch you if you hug her up like that."
"Oh, I don't care, I don't care, I am so glad to get her back. I just brought her from some bad boys who were going to drown her in the creek."
"Do you live here?" asked Lisbeth, looking up at the iron gates that were guarded by two big stone lions.
"Yes, don't you know I am Alma Norton, and this is my house?" laughed kitty's mistress.
"I know you. You are the little girl that lives in the Brambles. Sister Angela has told me about you, and I've been wanting to talk to you ever since."
"Oh, have you?" said Lisbeth, her little brown face lighting up in glad surprise.
"Yes," answered Alma, "Sister Angela said you had no story books, or toys or anything to play with, and I want to give you some of mine. I have such a lot, and Daddy is always bringing me more. He sent me home a talking doll last week. It says, 'Mary has a little lamb' straight through."
"A doll!" said Lisbeth breathlessly. "Oh, I'd like to hear it."
"Come up to the house and you can," said Alma. "And you can take some toys home with you — dolls or games or anything you like."
It was an offer no little girl of eight could resist, and Lisbeth went, following pretty Alma through the iron gates, and up the broad, shaded walks that led by garden beds full of springtime flowers and splashing fountains. In a daze of wonder and delight Lisbeth kept on, across a pillared porch, through the wide hall with its rugs and pictures, up the broad, polished stairs to a room that to even happier little girls than the lonely little child of the Brambles would have seemed like a Christmas dream.
Four big windows let in the sunshine upon walls papered with pictured fairy tales — Jack the Giant Killer, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and half a dozen more; a soft green rug bordered with roses nearly covered the shining floor; there was a wide, low table and half a dozen little white wicker chairs cushioned in pink, and all about, on shelves and stands, in closets, were toys and dolls and games and books, in bewildering array, while in a deep recess, just made for its accommodation, stood a doll's house, whose glistening, lace-curtained windows showed it to be furnished in the very latest style from kitchen to roof.
"Oh!" gasped Lisbeth as soon as she could find breath and speech, "are these all — all yours?"
"Yes," said Alma, still hugging her stray kitten, "this is my playroom. But I don't stay here very much now; I like outdoors best, don't you?"
"Oh, I — I don't know," said Lisbeth. "If I had all these beautiful things I would stay in and play with them forever — forever," she repeated with a long-drawn breath.
"Would you?" asked Alma. "Oh, I think it is a lot more fun to run out in the woods and climb trees and wade and dig. Can you climb trees?"
"Yes," said Lisbeth, thinking of the tossing boughs of the old elm where she often swung for hours.
"And wade?" asked Alma eagerly.
"Yes," answered Lisbeth. "The brook is full now, almost to my knees, and the white violets are out on the banks. I brought Sister Angela a big bunch to-day."
"White violets! Oh, I'd like to see them," said Alma. " I never saw white violets in my life."
"I'll bring you some tomorrow." said her little guest, and with this pleasant start Alma and Lisbeth were soon making friends rapidly.
The talking doll was brought out and said "Mary had a little lamb" without a break or a stammer; the miniature motorcar ran around the room for Lisbeth's pleasure; the dancing doll that "Grandma" had sent from Paris pirouetted to the gay strains of the music box beneath her satin slippered feet.
"Take some toys home with you," said Alma as at last her visitor rose to go. "Take that tea set, or those picture books, or maybe you would like a doll. Take Endora" — Alma caught up a golden-haired lady sleeping in a pink-curtained bed — "I've got two others with yellow hair, and I want this bed for my kitty anyhow," and the generous little giver pressed the wide-awakened Endora into her visitor's arms in a way that lisbeth could not resist.
Then the kitten, who had been dozing in one of the cushioned chairs, was picked up again, and Alma led Lisbeth down the broad stairs, and through the pictured hall, and out on the pillared porch to the broad, shaded walk again.
"I'll bring you the white violets tomorrow," said Lisbeth as the two friends parted at the gate.
"Yes, do" answered Alma, "I'll getNora to make us some cakes, and we will have a tea party. Come soon again, Lisbeth, and play with me — come soon again.
To be continued . . . . . on Thursday.