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THE WICKED OLD WOMAN IN THE bleeding from his weary wanderings. WOODS.
Standing by the brook-side, he bathed one
tired foot in the stream, and watched smil. THERE was a beautiful wood in Dev- ingly the pure water rippling over it.
onshire, England, far enough from The old woman started up, and with fierce the sea to be sheltered from its gales, and and angry gesture heaped curses on the near enough to give glimpses of its blue child, whose blue eyes gazed on her wonwaters beneath the leafy glades and green deringly and full of pity. arches of the forest. It was here a wicked “ You shall not bathe your feet in that old woman lived, in a little natural grotto stream,” she screamed. • It is mine." formed by an overhanging rock of dusky “ It is God's," said the little one. Devonshire marble. A stream, like a The answer angered her into madness. silver thread, ran along at its base ; glanc- Darting back into her cave, she seized a ing and leaping from rock to rock, it burning brand from the fire, and rushed seemed to play and sing as it went on its upon the child with murder in her words way to the blue sea.
and looks. With one bony wicked hand There is a why for every wickedness ; she clutched him by his golden curls, and but it would be too long to tell the story with the other raised the brand high in of this wicked woman's outraged life. the air to strike; but at that instant the The sorrow God sends softens, but the sun parted the clouds in the sky, beams of misery man makes hardens the heart. glory came down from heaven, and formed The mother from whom God has taken a halo round the golden head of the child. little children cannot be wicked, for she
The old woman fell on her face, expectknows there are angels in heaven waiting | ing instant death; but, instead of that, a for her. The daughter who has knelt by gentle hand was laid upon her head, and a her mother's death-bed, and heard her last voice like the sound of lingering distant prayer, and received her last blessing, music said, “ Fear not." cannot be wicked; for she would not She knew the angel was gone, because grieve the spirit of the blessed.
the shadow of his glory had faded away The wicked old woman had never from the brook, and the waters mirrored known her mother, nor nursed a child on now only the gray fleecy clouds of the her knee. Throughout her long life there summer sky. Still she lay there on the was no happiness to look back upon, the earth till the night breeze blew chilly over memory of which might soften her; no love, her, and the stars came out one by one; no tenderness she had clung to, whose re- then rising slowly she went into her cave. membrance now could bring tears into her No one saw her for a fortnight, and then withered eyes. All was injustice, wrong, the hermit met her. She had a bunch of and misery. God had pity on her; man roses in her hand, and her face was very had none.
pale. He asked her if she had been ill. One day she sat rocking herself to and She answered,“ No;" but she had been fro at the entrance of her cave, her long wrestling with an evil spirit. black hair streaming over her face, and To the outlaws she gave the same reher dark eyes looking fierce and glaring ply, and they believed her literally; but as she sat there in the deep shadow of the the hermit knew she meant herself. overhanging rock. The little stream rip- It was only a short time after this she pled calmly at her feet, trickling over the saw the child again. pebbles with a gentle sound that seemed He bathed his bleeding foot in the to tell of summer gladness, and the long stream, and watched it smilingly, as she tendrils of the woodbine waved above her, had seen him do before. Trembling and mingled with the clustering June roses. wondering, she looked on, till his blue eyes She rocked herself to and fro, her with turned on her inquiringly, and his little ered eyes watching the motions of a dead hand raised in the air beckoned, “ Come leaf, dead even in summer, that the idle hither." wind was whirling over the quiet brook. With faltering step she came, and, fall
Suddenly a shadow fell into the clear ing on her knees, whispered : water, just where the leaf was about to “Are you an angel ?" drop. It was a little child, with white “I do not understand you, good worobe torn with thorns, and feet bare and man,” replied the child.
She started up, and burst into tears. The child seeing that, put down his He had answered her in the language of porringer and asked, softly : her childhood, the language she had not “Was your father killed at sea, granny ?" heard for fifty weary years, since she was No, my child." a girl of twelve, and was stolen away “ Did the sailors take you away ?" from her French home by English pirates. “ Yes, my child," said the old woman, Yes, it was the old French tongue, for- her lip shaking. gotten now in France itself. But it was “Were you a little child like me?" not forgotten then by her. In the deep “I was a bigger child than you, woe is recesses of her heart it lay like a shrined me,” said the old woman. There was treasure, the sole thing till now she had agony in her voice. worshiped. She flung her arms around The child looked at her with earnest the child, for she saw he was no angel, eyes, and then slid his little hand softly and in his own tongue implored him to into hers. speak again.
Granny,” said he, "we will forget it It was nearly her own story he told. A together.” French and English ship had met and When she felt the clasp of those tiny fought fiercely. The French ship was fingers, soft and warm, holding her bony taken, and the innocent child was the only wicked hand, she trembled, and cried that creature allowed to live. The sailors had “God was too good to her, wicked as she landed that day for water, and he, wan- had been all her life.” dering away from them, had lost himself Then the child, to comfort her, smoothed in the woods. The ship was his home, her cheek with his hand, and whispered : and, in artless words, he asked her to take “ You'll be good now, granny, and God him back to it. He was from her own will forgive you." country, he spoke her own tongue, an He knew not what wickedness was, and she had seen him come before to her he had no loathing for her sin, her age, or dwelling as an angel; no wonder she was her withered ugliness ; tender and caressunwilling to let him go, and gazed wist- ing, and forgiving to all, he whispered to fully at the sea, as, carrying him in her her that he would have her for a mother, arms, she journeyed toward it.
because his own mother was now so far The beach lay five weary miles off; but away; he climbed on her knee, showing she said nothing, though the child was her his swelled foot, and asking her to heavy and the way was long. And it was “ make it well.” with a joyful heart that she pointed to Carefully she bathed and bandaged it; the white sail far out at sea, and thanked and then taking him in her arms again, the Providence that made the child her he talked of the sea-fight and his dead
father in a sad tone ; but then, rememberShe comforted him as he wept for the ing his little sister at home, and the rabbit loss of his rough home; and, with his lit- she had promised to tend in his absence, tle arms around her neck, and his soft face he laughed again, and said, “ He would pressed against her withered cheek, she soon go back to France to see her, and turned back to the wood. But not to go take old granny with him.” straight home; many a mile she went out Thus talking he fell asleep; and she of her way to beg for milk and bread for laid him gently on the bed of leaves, and her new charge. The rough peasants watched him as he slept. gave it willingly, with wondering eyes The moonlight, as it glanced in between gazing at the child's beauty and the the honeysuckle branches, made the child changed look in the old woman's face. look pale, and then she gazed at him,
The sun was sinking when she laid him sighing; but the red fire, as it rose and on the bed of leaves in her cave, and busied fell on the rude hearth, lent a ruddy glow herself to make a fire to warm his bread and to his fair cheek, and then she smiled. milk. She sat rocking herself to and fro, watching him as he ate, while he prattled All that summer-time the child and the to her in her own tongue till the tears old woman went hand in hand through swelled into her eyes, and trickling one by the wood. He soon got to know where one over the withered cheeks, fell slowly the birds sang the merriest, where the into the fire.
flowers grew the brightest; and he laughed
joyfully as he made the old woman reach in the tiny palm, his blue eyes fell on it him the highest branches of honeysuckle wistfully, and he would ask, “Where all and the wild clematis that hung from the the sheen was gone ?" trees. They took home such bunches of Pointing upward to the sun, she would flowers every night that the cavern was tell how he had lent some of his glory to strewn with them. And in remembrance it for a time, making a worthless pebble of the French rabbit, he soon had a little seem a gem; and he, holding it in his English one, for whom the old woman rosy fingers, turning and twisting it about never forgot to gather the fresh leaves it with curious, inquisitive eye, would gaze liked.
upward at the dazzling beams, and again By her own labor, too, in collecting at the dull stone, with looks of wonder wood for the peasants and herbs for the and of love. sick, she earned enough to buy a goat; The summer came again ; and the child, and all the milk was for the child. The the old woman thought, must be five years coarsest food had served for her ; but now old, and should be stronger now than last she made a rude oven in the rock to bake year; but it was not so. He no longer him better bread than the peasants could laughed so merrily when she shook down give. And she spun and knitted for him the June roses on him, or threw the honeyfor hours, as he played on the sands, and suckles into his lap. And on the seashe sat on the rocks near him. The beach shore, instead of building his mimic castles was his favorite spot, and the five miles and forts, he would come and rest his head were nothing to her when she carried him. on her knee, and gaze with fixed eyes over
And so the summer passed away, and the blue waters. the autumn, with its rich berries, its wild “Why look over the sea so earnestly, fruits, and showers of hazel-nuts, and then my child ?" asked the old woman one day the winter came.
“ France is there, and my little sister," The child was still the little bird of her he said, shading his eyes with his hand to dwelling, singing in the snow as he had gaze out further still. sung in the sunshine. He went every She caught him up in her arms, and where with her in her long walks to fetch hurried away; but glancing at his blue meal to bake, and wool to spin, sometimes eyes, she saw they looked steadfastly at the sitting on her shoulder, or lying in her sea, till the tall hedges hid it from his arms, and sometimes running by her side, sight; then, with a deep sigh, he laid his and always bright with happiness. head on her shoulder, and fell asleep.
He saw a thousand things the old woman He did not ask to go to the shore again had never seen before. Sometimes it was for a long time. a new flower, a curiously twisted leaf, a When the autumn came he was very shining pebble, or a broken shell ; but pale. “ It was the heat,” she said; and whatever it was his earnest eyes had fast- she carried him oftener than before. When ened on, he would have it, whether it were the winter came he was paler still, and high up on a thorny bank, or deep below then she said “it was the cold.” And on the rocks and shingles. Those little she heaped wood on the red fire, and made nimble feet surmounted all difficulties, and his bed at the back of the cave, far away the eager hands, that made the old woman from the frosty air. laugh-they were so small-seized the At last the time came when she could treasure, and held it fast, examining it cu deceive herself no more. The child lay riously.
on the yellow leaves, white and wasted, How she watched him with glistening fast dying. eyes! And in places he could not reach, It was an agony to her to be obliged to she put down her basket and went for him, leave him while she went to fetch the often over the sharp jutting rocks, where needful food and other things ; but, coming some white pebble glistened in the sun, home, she never forgot to gather the flowwhile his little hand outstretched pointed ers he loved ; and bringing them to his anxiously to it, and the childish voice, in bed, she would put them into the little eager accents, cried, " There, there, dear wasted hand held out for them. granny, that's it."
One day in February she was on her Alas! she could not bring the sunshine knces in the wood, searching anxiously with her; and when it lay dull and dark / and two outlaws passed.
“ Are you grubbing up roots there, found, and he went himself to see it, and Mother Beelzebub ?" asked one.
made her lift him up twenty times to look How she would have cursed him once ! at the shining eggs.
The cave grew Now she answered mildly, “ No, she was bright again with spring flowers, snowlooking for violets.”
drops, wood-anemonies, and lilies. “ Violets !” cried the robber, with a loud He was too weak to go far; so he laugh.
played by the brook-side, where she had “ Hush !” whispered the other, “ 'tis for seen his angel, and she sat under the rock the sick child. I saw some in bloom spinning. But she often let her wheel yesterday," said he, “yonder, mother; rest while she watched him with wistful round the old ash-root."
eyes that were ever saying, “ Farewell.” He pointed to the place ; and thanking All his talk was of home, and his sister, him, she went to gather them.
and his dear mother. Then April came, When she put them into the child's and she carried him to the seaport, and hand he was so pale, that she fell by his sheltered him in her arms through the side in terror and anguish, thinking he was voyage. dying.
They did not land in the town whence Raising himself in the bed, she felt his his father's ship had sailed.
He had rearms twined around her neck, and she membered the name when he first came heard him say,
Granny, I think Jesus is to the cave, and she had treasured it in come for me."
her memory; so now they had many weary “Not yet, my child, not yet ; I cannot leagues to traverse, and it was bright June bear it," she cried.
before they neared his home. She begged “Granny, I have told Him I cannot die her way on, and they wanted for nothing here ; and He says the angels shall come on the road ; for his beauty and the story for me when I am in France."
of his orphanage moved all hearts. Lying down again, he remained silent When they got close, quite close to the and thoughtful; while she stood over him, town, she walked very fast and eagerly, with such a look on her face as he had as if there were some fierce struggle in never seen there before.
her heart, and she feared the evil would All that night, whenever the child open- conquer. ed his weary eyes, he saw her sitting by Once in the town, the little-Gabriel's the fire, rocking herself to and fro. When house was soon found. It was the best he moaned or asked for drink, she was there, with a bright garden, and windows kneeling by his side; but when he was covered with twining flowers. Every one silent or seemed to sleep, she went back knew the story of his father's ship being by the fire, and rocked herself to and fro. taken by the English ; and one sailor, who
The next day it was the hermit who had escaped, recognized the child with a watched by his bedside, and the next day shout of joy. A crowd of wild, excited, too ; but in the evening she came back, happy people brought them to the door, footsore and weary, and falling on his bed, while others ran to the church to ring the clasped him tightly in her arms, crying bells for his return. out,
And now his little sister ran out, cry" O, my child, you will get well now, | ing, “ Gabriel, Gabriel !” and fell on his for you will see France."
neck with many tears ; and his mother With flushed cheek and eyes bewildered, stood fainting by, kneeling to thank God, he started up; while she told him she had and then kneeling to thank the old woman; found a ship to take them, going to sail and then, clasping her child in her arms, in April ; and she would go with him, speechless and sobbing, she went into her and give him safely to his mother. house, followed by her weeping friends.
She did not tell him that in giving him All was passionate exclamation, wonder, up she yielded her life, and that she had and joy. But in a few minutes they missed spent for the passage all the money she the woman who had brought them all this had saved through long years of sin to pay happiness. for masses for her soul.
She was gone ; she was already a weary No need to tell him to get well. Day mile on her way. How could she stay by day he grew better. She brought him there to see him taken by another ? home news of the first bird's-nest she had She never knew how pale his little face
was as he clasped his hands and implored But sometimes the little couch of yellow her to come back ; she never knew how leaves looked dead, and she would fancy he cried for her that night, till his own he was there covered up, but cold ; and weary sobbings sent him to sleep. then she would tremble very much, and
She was lying then in the shadow of a cry a little. great elm, looking up at the silent stars, And thus the autumn and the winter and murmuring, “ It is enough now, 0 glided away. She was a worn woman Lord."
now, minding herself so little, that I think I cannot tell you of her weary journey she must have starved if the good hermit home, because I should weep. She had had not helped her. not the heart to beg now, so she was in She never forgot to lay flowers on the want often; and every spot reminded her child's couch, though she so often forgot of him. Here he was tired, and she had her own roots and berries. Every night put him to sleep on the soft grass, and she knelt by the withered leaves to pray ; had sat, like Hagar, over against him, and when she rose from her prayer, she watching him. There he had played, always said, “God will let me see him binding up the flowers she had gathered, again." and laughing as he put them against One day in the early spring, just as the her withered cheek, to “make his granny snowdrops were peeping from the earth, a pretty.”
rough sailor came to the cave. He had Here was the bank where he had sat spoken a French ship, and had promised
the captain .
fetched him fresh water from the brook. | Little Gabriel was dead; and he had
0, how cold and dark the road was sent a message to her to say he should see without him! Everything was dead. her again.
She never looked up now; she new “ Well, she had known it long ago; she when she was in a wood by the fluttering had always known he would die. Had shadows of leaves that fell over her or she not seen his angel ?" fickered on her path. They made her That night, when she hid her face in shiver, those shadows, and so did the the withered leaves to pray, she said as bright sunshine when it poured over her usual, “ God will let me see him again.” in the open meadow or on the broad A few days after this the hermit, comroad.
ing to the cave, found her on her knees She got home at last, she knew not by the child's couch, a little bunch of bow, to the old cave, and began her old life white violets in her hand. He touched again. But often when she went out for her. She was quite dead. roots, she forgot them, and gathered The priests said no masses for her soul, flowers instead, and brought them home, because the money was spent in the voyand laid them on the dead leaves where age to France ; but I think she saw little the child had slept.
Gabriel again in heaven. In her wanderings, too, she would stop to pick up a shining pebble, or crimson leaf glittering with dew, or many a feather
TOO LATE! dropped from birds' wings, lying in the wood, forgetting she could not give them The sun that warms the fading flower to him now.
May cheer, not change its doom; She laid them all on the little bed till he
May stay its fate for one brief hour,
But ne'er restore its bloom ! should come back. The brown rug the
So, when the wither'd heart receives kind nuns gave him was there still. She The light of love too late, would not take it, even when the weather Its charm a while the wreck relieves, was at the coldest. At night, as she sat
But cannot change its fate! by her fire, she watched for his laughing
That heart, if yesterday caress'd, face to peep from under it, and to hear his
Perchance had 'scaped decay ! rosy lips cry,“ Granny, granny."
That smile, which yesterday had bless'd, Of an evening, in the old days, he would Comes all in vain to-day! do this as often as twenty times; and she
Then, 0! Love's vow of honor keep,
Nor let Affection wait; heard the childish voice still crying, For vain repentance, vain to weep, “Granny, granny."
When kindness comes too late!