It was really no wonder that Alma mixed matters a little, and her copy - book declared, between two black dots, that "My big brother has a sister cat."
"You will stay in until you write those words correctly," said Madame.
"I hate french!" said Alma, throwing down her book. "And I have not got any big brother or sister, and I can't stay in this horrid schoolroom any longer. I am going down into the garden with Tim."
"Eh, what is it I hear?" exclaimed Madame, nearly dropping the glasses off her nose in surprise, for Alma had been a model of good behavior for the last two weeks.
"I don't have to be good any more," explained Alma with a shake of her golden head. "Daddy don't want me to be good, or go to St. Mary's, or make my First Communion. He said so last night. He likes me to be his own little flyaway fairy> I'm too little to be good yet."
"Too little! too little! Ah, God bless me!" cried poor Madame as the flyaway fairy darted out of the room and down the stairs beyond reach of her halting step.
"What can be done when monsieur the father talks like that?"
"Too little to be good, when for three - four weeks she has been like an angel. Too little! Too little to be good!
"Ah, these American fathers!" sighed poor Madame despairingly.
"We can do nothing when they spoil little girls like this."
But naughty Alma had danced off down the garden walks to Tim, who was planting out his hothouse flowers. Tim had been gardener at Norton Hall before Alma was born. He had been hurt when he was a little boy, and was bent and crooked now like a tree that had grown out of shape. Perhaps it was the twist in his back that had made him a little grim and gruff and silent to most people; but for little Alma the blue eyes beneath his grizzly brows always brightened, his withered face wrinkled into a smile.
"Your off betimes this morning," he said as his little lady skipped down the path and perched herself on the low, wide-reaching branch of a Norway pine. "You must have been goo at your books this fine May day."
"No, I wasn't, answered Alma. "I wasn't good at all. I ran away from Madame.
"You did!" said Tim. "Isn't that a new turn you've taken?" I though it was the grand, good little girl you were since you went to the holy nuns upon the hill."
"I'm not going any more," said Alma with a little sigh. "Daddy don't want me to go any more. He don't want me to make my First Communion. I'm too little. He says he just wants me to dance and play, and not - not thing about being good at all."
"Oh, that's what he wants, is it?" said Tim as he struck his trowel deep around the roots of a big Azalea.
"And what hurt will it do ye to be good, little lady?"
"I don't know," answered Alma. "But it is hard sometimes. If I were good this morning, I would be up in the schoolroom, writing about my brothers dog. It's much nicer to be out here in the garden with you."
"Mebbe, said Tim with a shake of his grizzled head. "But little ladys like you have to learn books. And I'm sorry you're not going up any more to the good nuns on the hill. It's better than book larning you were getting there."
"oh, I'll goo back again when I get big," said Alma. "Now, now I'm just going to be a flyaway fairy, like Daddy says, and dance in the flowers and swing in the trees, and be glad all day long."
"That's well enough for the birds and the butterflies- aye, and the fairies too, if ye can find them." said Tim with a nod. "But not for you, little lady, not for you. It would be the sore sight for your own sweet mother in Heaven to see ye a 'Runaway Rose.'"
"What is a 'Runaway Rose,' Tim? Is it a story? Oh, tell me, please," said Alma eagerly. "I love your stories, Tim."
"It's a sort of a story," said Tim as he took up his trowel from the Azalea and settle himself on his wheelbarrow for a little rest. "It was Brother Cyril that told it to me when I worked under him, and Saint Barnabas, nearly forty years ago. He was the wonderful old man, Brother Cyril. There were whispers in the college that he had been a great man in his own country, and was as wise and book-learned as the Father Rector himself; but he chose to be lay brother and gardener for love of God. And he had wonderful ways with the flowers - the white lilies blooming always for Our Lady's feast, and the scarlet geraniums and poinsettia glowing blood red for the martyrs', and the roses filling the chapel with sweetness for the great days in June when the altar was all ablaze with lights and the boys walked before their Lord scattering Brother Cyril's flowers.
"That's where he liked to see them best, he always said, in the Corpus Christi procession. He'd strip the rose bushes bare, and fling the grandest and sweetest of them in the way of the Lord.
"'You'll let the rose buds stay, Brother Cyril?" I'd ask him.
"'No he'd answer me, 'they are the children roses, that God loves best; we must put them at His feet too.' And he would cut the half-open buds with the rest. He was a quare old man, Brother Cyril, and had quare thoughts. He said the flowers told him more of God's love than he could find in books."
"Oh, did they, Tim?" asked Alma breathlessly. "Do you suppose he could hear the flowers talk? There must have been fairies hiding in them, Tim."
"Not a bit of it." said Tim stoutly. "Never a fairy came near Brother Cyril's garden, I know. They wouldn't dare. Even the birds there sang low and sweet, and the butterflies fluttered soft and light, as if they were asking leave to come in.
"And the flowers!" (Tim drew a long breath of remembrance.) "Never did I see such flowers. How and where Brother Cyril got them I never knew. He would go off to the woods and hills and bring in some wild slip or root that would grown and blossom to beat the grandest garden flowers that ever was known.
"'Ah, the poor things,' he would say when he saw them shooting out green and fresh. 'If we only grew like that, Tim, when God plants us in His garden and gives us His grace and love! But we don't, Tim, we just stay wild and hard and knotty to the last.' That is the way he talked, with his eyes shining soft and tender, like he was talking in a dream. Ah, Brother Cyril was a quare - quare old man! There were them that said he was a saint, but I don't know - he never knew it himself, I'm sure.
"And he told me a dale about flowers I never heard before or since. That's why I stayed with them," added Tim. "I could have twice the money in your father's stable with the horses, but I like it better here."
"So do I, Tim," said his little lady. "I wouldn't like you to be in the stables at all. Do you think the flowers talked to Brother Cyril really and truly, Tim?"
"He never said 'talked,'" corrected Tim hastily. "He said 'told.' There is a differ between them, little lady. There's whispers that come to ye - ye can't tell how - whispers without words or sound. That's the way the flowers whisper - I've heard them myself."
"Oh, have you, Tim?" asked Alma eagerly. "What did they say?"
"I couldn't put in in talk." said Tim, "but it goes something like this: 'Look at us, Tim,' the Easter lilies says when they stand up, white and tall and sweet. 'Think of the ugly bulb you planted down in the dark earth, and see what has come of it. All the wise men in the world couldn't make a lily out of a black knotty bulb, Tim, only God. So put us on the altar, we must live and die for Him."
"And - and do the roses say that too?" asked Alma with wide - open eyes.
"Sometimes," said Tim, "but not always, little lady. There are all sorts of roses, as you know, and they are not saint flowers, like lilies. 'Let us alone' they seem to say with their thorns and prickles. 'Let us alone, Tim Dolan. We don't want to be pruned and trained and tied up to the trellis." And they scratch my face and tear my clothes, when I'm working to have them grow up sweet and purty and not dwindle and fade like the 'Runaway Rose' I'm going to tell you about now."
"Oh yes, tell me about it, Tim," and Alma nestled her golden head against the trunk of the pine, looking in her pretty pink frock like a stray little rose herself.
Maybe that was the thought that came into old Tim's grizzled head, for his eyes were very king and his voice soft as he went on with the story.
"The 'Runaway Rose' grew in a garden like this. It wasn't a runaway at first, but the loveliest rose that was ever seen. Never a thorn upon it, and blooming and budding in every branch and bough, until it filled the garden far and near with its sweetness, and was the pride of the gardener's heart. He pruned and trained and grafted it and dug about its roots, and the rose grew bigger and sweeter every year, until one dark cold winter night a killing frost struck the garden and left this queen of all roses blighted and dead."
"All dead,Tim?" Asked Alma tremulously - "all?"
"All but one little root," answered Tim; "one wee little root that was hidden too deep under the last year's leaves for Jack Frost to reach. There it lay, soft and warm and sound asleep, never knowing what had happened to the beautiful bush above it, until the spring came and all the garden woke up, the little rose root with the rest. There was stir enough to wake it, with the twittering of the mating birds, and the digging and raking in the garden beds, and the cleaning away of all winter's killing to make way for spring and life.
"'What is it I hear?' asked the little root as it stretched itself in the darkness.
"' They are cutting down the bush above ye,' answered a worm. They are great busybodies, the worms, and know all that is going on.
"'And what for?' asked the little root, waking up wide.
"'The frost struck it in the winter night,' answered the worm. 'It's all dead but you. It's for you to shoot up into the sunshine now and be the queen rose yourself.'
"'Oh, I dare not,' said the little root, all a-flutter with what it had heard. 'The frost might strike me too in the night and kill me.
"'It can't, said the worm. 'The frost has gone; the spring is here, or I wouldn't be out myself. It's for you to stir yourself now and be up and grow - that is if you want to be a queen rose. I wouldn't - if I were in your place.
"'Oh, wouldn't you?' said the little root in wonder. 'Wouldn't you like to spread beautiful boughs all covered with buds and roses? Wouldn't you like to fill the whole garden with sweetness? Wouldn't you like to be the master's pride and joy?'
"'No,' said the worm. 'Not if I had to be pruned and trained and grafted and tied to the trellis.'
"'Will they do all that to me?' asked the little root, a-tremble.
"'Yes,' said the worm.
"'Then I'll not go up into the garden,' said the little root. 'I'll run away.' And it took itself off, through the black earth where the worm led, and down by the brook, where it stopped a minute to drink, and under the stone wall of the garden, to the rocky banks beyond, and there among the weeds and the thistles and the long rank grass it began to grow.
"But not into a queen rose, little lady; its twisted, straggly branches were spiked with sharp thorns, its leaves heavy and coarse, The roses were only poor single-leaved things, that dropped at a touch; the slugs ate the buds before they could half open, for there was no one to watch it or train it, or prune it or graft it - this poor 'Runaway Rose' - no one to help it to climb. It could only tangle itself among the thistles, getting wilder and uglier every year."
"Oh, Tim!" - there was almost a sob in Alma's voice - "didn't it ever get back into the garden again, the poor little Rose?"
"It did," said Tim. "The master was passing by the wild place and saw it. No eye but his would have known the poor, ragged, dusty beggar of a flower, tangled among the thistles, for the 'Runaway Rose.' But he saw and knew, and he loosened it from the thorns and briers, and took it up again by the roots, and planted it back in the garden. And as Brother Cyril said, when he ended the story, it was glad enough after this to be pruned and trained and grafted at his Master willed."
"And it grew into a beautiful, lovely queen rose again?" asked Alma.
"I suppose it did, said Tim doubtfully, "though that Brother Cyril did not say. But I'm thinking it couldn't grow quite as purty and sweet as if it had never run away at all."
"No, it couldn't," said Alma gravely. "Little girls are like runaway roses sometimes, aren't they, Tim?"
"They are," said Tim. "They run away from their books and their lessons and their prayers, and all the good things that make them grow right, and when there is no one to hold or turn them it is as bad for them as it was for the 'Runaway Rose.' Sometimes they stray off so far they never get back."
"I'm going back now," said Alma as she pirouetted off the pine bough. "I;m going up to the schoolroom and write my French lesson, Tim. And I'd go back to St. Mary's if Daddy would let me. But he won't, Tim, he won't.
"No, he won't," sighed Tim to himself as Alma danced away. "It's the fairy he'd keep ye always, as he says. But he can't" added the old man, with a grim nod. "The Lord will hold ye for His own, my little lady rose. He'll hold ye and lead ye in His own blessed way, let the master below do what he will."