There was a Calvary in the center, a grassy mound upholding a marble cross, while the fountain near by was guarded by a white-winged angel leading a little child.
All these were knew and bewildering sights to Lisbeth, as Sister Angela led her into this lovely spot and she looked from grotto to cross and angel with wide-open eyes of wonder.
She had put on her best clothes a brown gingham dress very much too small for her, a gray worsted sweater very much too large, a red worsted cap with a swinging tassel. But there were no little girls to stare and titter at her looks to-day they had all gone home.
Sister Angela led her to a bench by the fountain at the white-winged angel's feet. And there Lisbeth's lessons began, not hard lessons at all, for they were all in a book full of pictures - pictures that the lonely little child could understand - for they were of birds and bees and butterfly's, of flowers and trees, of all the beautiful living, growing things that Lisbeth knew. And after she had look at them awhile Sister Angela asked her, "Who made all these things, Lisbeth?"
"Why, why they grew," answered Lisbeth with a little laugh.
"Who makes them grow and live and sing and bleat and chirp? Who made the hills and the woods, and big old Top Notch that rises so high and rough above your house? Who made the bright sun that comes out every morning - and the moon and stars that shine at night? Who made all these wonderful, beautiful things, Lisbeth?"
"Oh, I-I don't know," faltered Lisbeth. "I thought they just grew, but the sun can't grow, or stars or mountains." She lifted soft, bewildered eyes to the distant crest of Old Top Notch outlined against the sunlit sky. "Who could have made them all?"
"I will tell you," said Sister Angela as she put her arm around Lisbeth and drew her close to her side. And then, in sweet, simple words that the little girl could understand, Sister Angela tole her of the good God, who has made all things in Heaven and on earth, the sun to shine by day, the moon and stars by night, and all this wonderful world of life and beauty and growth and bloom by His word and will. "He sees, knows, rules all things, Lisbeth even the fall of all little bird from its nest in the tree - but it is the little children like you, Lisbeth, He loves best of all."
And Sister Angela went on to tell her that this great God who made and rules all things is the loving Father of all His children on earth — watching over them, caring for them, guarding them by night and day.
It was only what happier little ones learn at their mother's knee that Lisbeth heard for the first time to-day at the white-winged angel's feet — but she listened as happier children do not often listen, her eyes wide with interest, her thin brown cheeks glowing, her lips apart.
A Father! Lisbeth never had known a Father, and the name sent a strange tremor through her lonely little heart. A Father! What a strange, wonderful thing to have a Father, who could do all things, who was so great and loving and good, who had made the sun, moon, stars, and this green, beautiful earth with all that lived and moved and grew upon it — most wonderful of all who had made little Lisbeth herself to be His child and to love and serve and be happy with Him forever.
Before Lisbeth left the garden that afternoon, she had learned the first words of her first prayer.
"Our Father who art in Heaven" — just those six words and no more but oh, how much they meant to Lisbeth! Happier little girls, who had said them all their lives, could never know.
Then Sister Angela opened a box she had with her and showed Lisbeth how to play with the pretty painted blocks it held — how A stood for Apple, and B for Bunny, and C for Cat, and D for Dog.
It was such a delightful game that Lisbeth was up to K for Kitten before it was time to go. For the great convent bell was sending its deep call through the garden now, and Sister Angela rose, showing a neat paper bundle that had been beside her on the bench.
"It is the little blue dress that I promised you. Put it on tomorrow, when you come to school. My little pupil must look nice and neat as the other little girls at St. Mary's."
"Oh, I couldn't said Lisbeth, breathless with delight.
"Yes, yes, you can," said Sister Angela gayly. "Put on the blue dress tomorrow and see."
And then the big bell rang again, and Sister Angela had to go, while Lisbeth went back over the rough road to the Brambles feeling as if she had not quite wakened from a beautiful dream. Gran was not home —only Dirck, the watchdog, was keeping house.
Lisbeth went into the big closet that had once been the pantry of Thornwood and was now her room. Its only furniture was a narrow cot, a broken chair. She took the string off her bundle and spread out its contents with eager, trembling hands. A blue gingham dress, all trimmed with braid and buttons, a neat little under skirt, half a dozen pairs of stockings, a pair of strong new shiny shoes, with tips and heels! She tried them on—they fitted without a squeeze or pinch. For one delighted moment she stood straight up on the pair of dainty feet she could scarcely believe were her own.
"Oh, Dirck, look!" she said to the big dog who had followed her to the door. "Ain't they beautiful, Dirck? And they don't hurt like the shoes Uncle Lem brought me. I could run and jump and dance in them right now. But I won't — I might get them muddied and scratched, and I must go to school looking nice—nice like the other little girls—and maybe they will play with me, now that I have this lovely blue dress and shining shoes. I'll take them off and put them away until tomorrow and then you and I will get supper—a real nice supper for Gran,"
It was not often they had real suppers at Thornwood. Lisbeth often ate her crust of bread or johnny-cake swinging on the broken gate. But she must be nice like the other little girls now, as Sister Angela had said.
When Gran came home, grim and cross in the fading sunset, she blinked with angry surprise for Lisbeth had "set" the kitchen table as best she could; a clean towel covered its blackened top, the milk, usually served in the tin can, had been poured into a cracked pitcher. Lisbeth had washed the few cups and plates, filled the broken sugar bowl, sliced the stale loaf as she had seen it sliced at their neighbor's, Mrs. Burns.
"What's all this?" asked Gran as she dropped heavily into her chair. "You ain't been having company again ?"
"Oh no, Gran, it's just for you," answered Lisbeth. "The tea is hot, and I found some cheese in the cupboard, and a jar of jam."
Cheese and jam! I like your impudence," growled the old woman. But for all her rough speech, Gran's face softened a little as Lisbeth poured out her tea. "Ye went to school today as the lady bid ye?" she asked. "What sort of a place is it?"
"Oh, a beautiful place, Gran!" Lisbeth answered. "And Sister Angela (she told me to call her Sister) was so nice and kind too, and she gave me a pretty dress and shoes, her own little sister's dress, Gran. Oh, I like going to school so much!"
"Well, if it is all you say and you're not put upon, I don't see why you can't keep it up. Now clear up all this clutter, for I 'm outdone with the trouble and worriment of the day. I must get to my bed and rest."
And Lisbeth cleaned up the "clutter" with a willing hand, and then, while old Gran slept heavily after her troubled day, and Dirck dozed in the darkened kitchen, Sister Angela's little pupil sat out on the broken doorstep watching the stars peeping out one by one in the violet skies, and thinking of all Sister Angela had told her as they sat together on the bench beside the fountain.
The great golden sun that had just gone down, the moon rising over the rocky heights of old Top Notch, the stars glimmering in the twilight sky, the woods, the hills, the mountains had new meaning for her tonight. They were all made by God, and this good God was her Father; she was His little child.
It was a happy Lisbeth that met Sister Angela next day. The pretty blue frock fitted her to a charm, the gray sweater had been left at home, for the days were growing warmer, a stiffly starched sun-bonnet replaced the knit cap.
"What a very nice looking little girl," said Sister Angela brightly.
"Gran told me to give you this," said Lisbeth, producing a folded paper. "She can't read it, she says, because it's Spanish or French, but she knows it is all right."
"Oh, it is, indeed," said Sister Angela gladly as she glanced over the parchment like sheet. "It is your baptismal certificate from the old mission church of San Filippo, California. Oh, Lisbeth, little Lisbeth, how wonderful! You are God's own dear child already. Now all is right, my dear little girl; your sweet little soul has been freed from all stain of sin."
And as Lisbeth looked up at her, wondering, Sister Angela drew her to her side and explained what baptism meant. She showed her pictures of the first man and woman in their beautiful garden, where there was no sorrow, no sickness, no pain. She showed her the one Tree they were forbidden to touch and how they had disobeyed.
Sister Angela told Lisbeth how the punishment for this disobedience had fallen on them and all their children, how they had been driven out of the beautiful garden with its fruits and flowers, and Life had become dark and sad and sorrowful because they had offended their good God and Father.
"I would never have done that," said Lisbeth positively — "never. I would have stayed in the garden and been good."
"Ah, that is what we all think, little Lisbeth," said Sister Angela softly, "but we don't know until we are tried. It is often hard even for little girls to be good and loving, patient and kind. Even to little children there comes the tempter's whisper: do this wrong thing, tell this story that is not true, take what is forbidden, no one will ever see or know, But the good God who is your Father always sees and knows what you are doing, what you are saying, even what you are thinking, little Lisbeth, and so we must try to do and say and think nothing that would displease Him because that is Sin — and sin is the worst thing in all the world, worse than pain or sickness or sorrow, worse than Death itself."
So the sweet hour in the garden went by for Lisbeth, and she went home to the dark old house in the Brambles, to take off her pretty blue dress and shining shoes and be Gran's shabby, ragged, barefooted little girl again.
And oh, how cross Gran was this afternoon! How she scolded and grumbled and nagged! She was to wash for the boys in the morning, and Lisbeth had to bring wood and draw water until her poor little brown arms ached. There was no time to think tonight; she was glad to creep into her pantry room in the early darkness and tumble wearily into her narrow little bed. But through the broken window came the pate light of the moon, shining over the crest of old Top Notch, the glimmer of a star through the cedar bough, the twitter of the birds in their new-made nests. Tired little Lisbeth remembered again, and even as her sleepy eyes closed, whispered her prayer
— "Our Father who art in Heaven."
To be continued . . . . . . on Thursday