ePub 版

you cry?"

but the priest came forwards, and took her by the hand.

“ You must not be afraid of me, little one,” he said, sitting down and taking her hand, and the Picciola felt herself immediately transported to Elysium. "I sent for you this evening because I want to speak to you, and I shall not see you at the school for some days; but I will give you something to eat first, because I know you must be

hungry." “No, sir, I ain't, please," said the child, in a whisper. Have

you been feasting sumptuously to-day, then ? But what is the matter? what has bappened to make

The child put up her little hands, to try and stop the tears that were rolling down her pale face.

“Oh ! please, sir, I said a bad word. I didn't mean to, but I got angry, and I said it afore I thought."

There was something in this confession, thus blurted out, the sin itself being no very black one, that might have provoked a smile in a man of a different temperament to Angelo Stewart, and who had not seen so much of sorrow and suffering; but he did not smile, he only drew the child closer to him, and said with his sweet, tender voice and manner,

“My little child, you have done right to confess your fault, and if you are sorry for it our SAVIOUR will for. give you, and He knows that it is very difficult for any human being to get over a bad habit; but if you try, you will always find that He helps you.

“Then you will forgive me, sir ?"

“Oh! idolatry !" said the priest, inwardly, “how ingrained thou art in the heart of man! My child," he added, aloud and gravely, “it is not my forgiveness that can do you any good—you must not ask me to forgive you, you must ask God.'

The Picciola made no answer; it was evident she valued the forgiveness of the man more than that of the Creator, and Angelo did not pursue the subject then. He made the child take refreshment first, and took care that she enjoyed a good supper before he spoke to her any further on religious matters; and then, when the re

past (which to the Picciola's profound astonishment he shared with her,) was finished, he took her on his knee, and said kindly,

Now, little one, it is some time since I saw you, and I don't know all you have learned in that time. Have you been taught to pray ?”

“Yes, sir, the young ladies and the parson—the minister, I mean-taught me, the LORD's Prayer they calls it, and telled me what it means.'

And do you ever pray when you are alone ?”

The child looked down, and after her usual habit played with her bare feet on the carpet. She knew he was waiting for an answer, and she must give one. "No, please, sir."

“What, then, keeps you from swearing and doing wrong, if you don't pray to God to help you?" Still the averted head and downcast eye.

Please, sir, you told me not to swear, and do naughty things."

“ I told you that God thought it wrong, and has forbidden it. I told you not to swear for His sake, not for mine."

The child's pale face flushed scarlet, and tears started to ber large black eyes.

“I tried, sir, once, but I couldn't think God was there, it was down in a churchyard near here; and when I asked Him to make me a good girl, I wasn't thinkin' about Him I was thinkin' of you, sir, and it didn't seem as if God could hear me."

It is difficult to tell so lonely and loveless a creature, that she is thinking too much of a human being. It seems a mockery to say to a little outcast, who, from her cradle to her seventh or eighth year, has never known a word or look of kindness, “ You are not to worship the man who speaks gently to you, and reveals to you the glorious destiny to which you are born.” And Angelo Stewart did not reprove her now, reproof would do little good, he must try to divert her thoughts from their present mainspring.

Why,” he said, “cannot you believe that God hears

[ocr errors]



"I don't know, sir-leastways, I mean--you said He


was everywhere, sir; but it don't seem as if He was in the street and in that old churchyard."

“ Where do you think He is then, my child ?” “ Isn't He always in your church, sir ?”

“I hope so, I believe so, when we meet together there to worship Him. God has said, “Where two or three are gathered together in My Name (that is to worship Him,) there am I in the midst of them ;' but if you can believe that He is in that church more than anywhere else, go there and pray, it is always open and free to every one."

“Oh! I think I could pray there, sir; but wouldn't they turn me out ?”

My child, our Saviour did not reject any one, He loved such poor little children as you. Bring me that Bible, and I will read to you what Jesus said of little children." The child stepped to the

little table to which he pointed, and brought the Sacred Volume with trembling reverence; and with a face beaming with deep-seated delight she paused a few feet away from Angelo, while he turned the pages of the book, looking for the chapter he wanted. But as she stood, her very attitude a study, her bands locked, her slender little figure the very model of wrapt attention, her graceful head leaning a little to one side, and bent slightly forwards,-the priest looked up suddenly and caught the earnest wistful gaze of the large dark eyes, and at that moment a strange thrill of pleasure and of pain shot through him: of pleasure, because of the trust in and for him expressed in that little face; of pain, because he saw there more markedly than be had seen before the first shadow of fatal footsteps. There was the transparency in the flush on the cheek, the scarlet hue on the parted lips, the singular brilliancy of eye. He stretched out his hand abruptly, and drew the child towards him.

“My little child," he said anxiously," do you ever suffer ? have you any cough or pain in the chest ?”

"No pain, sir. I coughs sometimes; leastways I did t'other day when Mary Anne whacked me, and a few times besides ; but I ain't got no cough, sir.”


[ocr errors]

The priest sighed heavily; but he said no more just then, and turned to the Bible. “ Here at least,” he said to himself, “is rest and peace.

. . Now listen, little one, to what our Blessed Redeemer said for little children.”

And breathlessly she listened to him while he read that beautiful chapter; but when he came to those words of the SAVIOUR,“ Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of Heaven,” the child clasped her hands, and looked so earnest, so wistful, that be paused, and asked her if she wanted to ask any question.

“Please, sir, please read that over again." “ Twice, thrice, seven times if you will, my child," and

! be repeated the verses which seemed to have such a charm for her. She repeated the words of the Redeemer to herself two or three times when he had finished the chapter, and then asked earnestly,

“And will God really hear me, sir, if I pray in your church pa

“He will hear you anywhere, my child, as much if you knelt down in your own poor home, or in the old churchyard of which you speak, as He would in S. Michael's Church, or S. Paul's Cathedral."

“But it's so grand and beautiful, and so solemn-like, sir ; it seems as if He was always there, sir."

It was evident that even Angelo Stewart could not dispossess the child's mind of the idea that the Creator dwelt absolutely in that church; and some might have blamed him, because instead of persisting in trying to argue her out of the impression, he yielded to it, and told her to go there and pray if she believed God to be only there. But S. Paul had said, “Be all things unto all men to win souls to CHRIST;' and it is better that a man should pray only in a church, if be cannot realise the Presence of the Deity in any other place, than that he should not pray at all. And this child, ignorant, and only just on the brink of knowledge, could not be imbued all at once with the ideality of the Christian faith; the human mind must creep before it can run, and in her the strong imagination newly

[ocr errors]

awakened seized upon the material, and it would have been perfectly useless at present to have sought to persuade her that God was literally everywhere, she could only admit it theoretically, because she was told 80, but she could not realise it, and her very next question showed how deep-rooted in her imagination was the very natural impression she bad received.

" Please, sir, isn't it because God's in a church that you walk so soft and speak so quiet like ?"

'We do that, my child, because the church is consecrated, devoted to the service of the Almighty; it would not be right to treat a church at any time as you would any other public place. It would be a disrespect to God, just as it would in me be a disrespect to my mother's memory if I took that picture of her and trampled upon it; only it would be far worse to show even a slight want of reverence to God tban great disrespect to a human being.”

The child's eyes were lifted to the kind face, at which she had covertly glanced more than once, and her naturally correct eye had directly traced the likeness between the dead mother and the living son. His look followed hers, and rested on the face of that mother whom he had never known, rested with an irrepressible sadness and yearning; and then, instinctively, his eyes came back to the child, to meet hers fixed on him with a gaze so full of the love which is almost worship that he started, and laying his hand on her head said involuntarily, “God keep thee, child, from idolatry."

And then once more—for he saw that she was a willing, an eager listener-he spoke to ber of the Redeemer and His wondrous love and sacrifice, until the time came when his own duties called him away, and he was compelled to send the child from him. When he was once more alone, he covered his face for a moment and prayed, “GOD show me the right! is it wrong to love this one little child above all the others ?"

How dreary seemed the close sultry street, as three minutes afterwards he passed down it with bis swift light step. The night had fallen gloomy and "covered," with no moon, and only a few stars glimmering in the

« 上一頁繼續 »