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Day in as entire loneliness as her Christmas Eve. It was all the harder to bear because of that little speech of Sister Pauline's, for had she not been painting in her imagination pictures of the beautiful tree, dazzling with its countless candles, which she knew was to delight the eyes and fill the pockets of the invited guests after tea should be
As she thought about it all, she took courage and tried to persuade herself it was only forgetfulness, and that one of the Sisters might come to fetch her the next day. She was hardly fifteen years of age, and we all know how vigorous hope is then, how it will not be crushed down, but will lift up its head in spite of the fiercest storm.
Just then the wide staircase of the old house creaked beneath the light tread of young feet, and Ottilie recognised the voices of a party of her companions chatting merrily to each other as they ran down. They tapped at the inner door of her room as they passed, and without waiting for an answer looked in. “ Ma chère Ottilie !” exclaimed the foremost in French,
" What are you moping here for "
in bed ?” asked another, for from economical motives, the little housekeeper was sitting in the darkness, and the girl's eyes could distinguish nothing.
No,” she answered, slowly uncurling herself, and feeling for the match-box by her side, “ I'm waiting to go to Mass, and I'm afraid I shall fall asleep if I lie down.”
“What an idea !” ejaculated the first speaker, who was very kindhearted, and felt for Ottilie in her loneliness, and had looked in upon her indeed for the express purpose of cheering her up, "you must be moped to death. Come along with us. We're all going to the dancing at the Three Kings,' and we shall have rare fun.”
“No, thank you,” said Ottilie, in answer to this invitation, “ I'd rather not.”
“ There's nothing to pay,” remarked another girl, who passed among her companions for an heiress, “ Our partners pay something somehow or other, but we needn't pay a sou.”
“ That's not it,” returned Ottilie, " but I'd rather not go.” “ Too pious !” suggested one of the party with a sneer.
Ottilie heard it and flushed up. That was a point on which she was very sensitive.
“That's more than you are apparently,” she said, angrily.
Oh, for the matter of that," retorted the offender,
we know we're not all saints like you.”
“No, indeed,” added the especial friend of the last speaker, “but then we don't live on the Sisters, perhaps that's the reason.”
The hot blood mounted to Ottilie's face, and she was about to make another angry reply, when Marie, the first speaker, interposed as peacemaker.
“Ottilie knows her own business best, and we don't want to force her to come, but it's a pity. Well, good night, Ottilie, we shall be late if we wait any longer,” and she hurried out, drawing her companions after her.
This Marie Rothhaus was the belle of Ottilie's humble circle, and though little more than sixteen, had already many admirers. She was Ottilie's champion on all occasions—because she could never find a rival in her, ill-natured tongues said—but most likely because she was genuinely kind-hearted, and pitied her friend's orphaned condition.
It was true indeed that Ottilie had as yet raised no flutter of admiration in any young breast. Her companions about her own age, besides Marie, had already tasted the sweets of conquest, and in their walks to and fro with her would affect now and then not to notice a timid salute, or, when more graciously inclined, would loiter behind her for a whispered word, and indeed sometimes leave her altogether of an evening as they strolled under the trees on the old town walls.
Of such delights Ottilie knew nothing. She knew that she was plain, and she tried not to mind it, nor sigh for such forbidden joys; still, do what she would, there were times when she would have given anything she possessed-except perhaps the old Black Forest chairfor an hour's triumphant feeling of being courted, or the better happiness of being loved.
Sometimes she would open her heart on this matter to her unfailing friend Sister Pauline, and the sympathizing Sister would try and comfort her by telling her of that Higher Love for which perchance she was being reserved; or would sketch to her the dangers of great personal attractiveness, and bid her believe it was oftentimes but an obstacle in our heavenward path.
However it might be, the little lonely heart could not but ache sometimes, as older and more disciplined ones do often in the trials of life, before they can learn to stay themselves on the All-Sufficient.
Now, this night, after the voices of her gay companions had died
away in the distance, the longing revived, and Ottilie fell to framing to herself a romance of which she was the heroine, and in which there was a hero, who lifted his cap shyly to her when he met her, and then, waxing bolder, blushed as he offered to carry home her pail of water for her from the fountain, and then joined her in her walks, and, finally, actually gave her a ring !
At this point her reverie was broken in upon by the boom of the great Church bell.
“ Adeste fideles” it seemed as it would say, and the faithful in the old Alsatian town arose and answered its call.
The snow had ceased falling, and every house poured out its inmates. There was scarcely a Protestant household, though in Alsatia, within the walls of the old town. Ottilie ran along the snow-covered street as fast as she dared, to the large Church of S. Boniface. She was almost the first to enter. There was one old woman already there, crouching near the doorway, with her own private rushlight stuck by the help of its own tallow on the end of a wooden bench at her side, and she was employing the hour, till it should be time to begin her prayers, by knitting rapidly, and in a half-doze, a coarse grey stocking
When Ottilie came in, she struggled to her feet, and dipping her hand into the holy water, offered the tips of her fingers to Ottilie. The girl brushed a drop from them, and signing herself, made her way up the south aisle to a little chapel where her friends the Sisters generally sat.
On her way she passed a fair-haired child, carefully wrapped up in rich furs, who lifted up a pair of soft brown eyes as the orphan went by.
“How cold and sad she looks,” thought the child of plenty to herself, “I wish she could come to my
Christmas-tree.” Soon the service proceeded. A myriad tapers twinkled in the gloom of the great arches, and the deep bass of the officiating priest was answered back by a burst of mingled voices from the choir.
The little girl grew weary, and her thoughts ran off to the coming delights of Christmas Day.
But Ottilie had no such causes of distraction. To her the Church, with its warmth and light and crowds of worshippers, was the most beautiful place she knew on earth, and as the shrill treble of a chorister rose like the song of a bird, she let her thoughts rise with it to the sky which was, as on that day, opened that man might see the glory of the lowly Babe of Bethlehem, and hear the angelic songs that hymned His Advent to this world of woe. She was very ignorant in many ways, but she had been well and carefully taught the truths of her religion, and sorrow had made them take a great hold on her mind. She was nick-named “the Saint” by her careless companions, and though she was very far from being that, still the good Sisters considered her their best pupil, and indeed some of them thought her so good that they were fully persuaded that she was intended either for some great future of usefulness in God's Church or for an early death.
It is strange how rooted this last fancy is in the minds of most of us. “Whom the gods love die young,” sang the Pagan poet, and all sects of Christians share the feeling.
By some accident Sister Pauline, Ottilie's kindest friend, was not at Mass on this Christmas Eve, and no invitation for the morrow came for the girl. So she ran back with a heavy heart to her lonely home. She said her prayers, undressed herself hastily, and got into bed. But at first she could not sleep. Bravely summoning to her aid all her religion and all her little philosophy, she resolved she would not as she lay awake think of her troubles, but of God's mercies to her.
Was there not the gentle old Priest and the kind Sisters ? She had read stories of children who had no friends in the whole wide world, and of some who had not even a roof to cover them; while she had a warm bed and a table and two small chairs—and, above all, the armchair. Why! she was quite rich compared to some children, she was well aware; and perhaps after all Sister Pauline would come in the morning and invite her to tea. Anyhow she was very glad she had not gone with Marie to the Tanz-musik; that would have displeased the Herr Pastor, she knew, and dear Sister Pauline too.
Thinking of all these things, at length she fell asleep. And as she slept, she dreamt. She seemed to hear a knock at her door. Could it be Marie and her friends come to persuade her to go to the TanzMusik? Very likely. Well! she would pretend not to hear. But a second time the knock came. No, it was not Marie's, for it was on the outer door. While she hesitated the knock came a third time. This time she would open, for now she felt quite sure it was not Marie's knock, it was so soft and gentle. As in her dream she stepped out of bed, with the marvellons rapidity for which dreams are famous, the verse which she had seen below a print in the Convent came into
her head—a print, the gift of an English traveller, of a tall man with a sad, earnest face, lighted up by the feeble glimmer of the lantern he held in his hand, standing amongst briers and thistles and rank grass, on which the cold dews of night were glistening—and this was the verse : "Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled : for my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of night.”
When Ottilie opened the door, what a sight met her eyes ! Standing with his baby-hand on the key, which he was gently shaking, (and even in the dim light Ottilie could see that the lock was in the shape of a heart,) was a little child. His rounded baby-feet were pressed on the cold snow; the little shirt only half screened the tender limbs from the piercing wind; but round him played a faint glory, and as he lifted his soft eyes to Ottilie, and stretched out his little arms as if yearning for sheltering love, the orphan recognised the Holy Child. She sank on her knees on the door-step, and stretched out her hands to take Him to her heart Who was pleading for her love, and as she looked up she saw the street behind Him thronged with angels. Their white wings were palpitating, as it were, against the wintry sky, and their hands were folded adoringly on their breasts. Away all along the street, between the irregular fantastic gables of the ancient houses, the angelic procession stretched, right up to the distant minster tower.
But Ottilie's heart did not need this assurance that she was folding in her arms her Infant-King. A perfume of myrrh was about Him, which even in this hour of joy led the mind on to Calvary. The. childish face was white and ruddy, and the dove-like eyes gleamed from beneath locks of gold. From the sweet mouth came a whisper, “Give Me thine heart;" and even as the words were uttered, before Ottilie gave her promises, the vision vanished. But long after it had gone “the voice of the Beloved” rang in her ears. “ With God's help, I will give Him my heart,” she said to herself, and just then, as it seemed to her, once more the great Minster clock boomed out for Mass.
Ottilie woke and dressed, and still half in a dream ran along the snowcovered street to Church. As she went she almost expected to see the angel-hosts, and to hear once more the pleading words. When she got to Church, she knelt and said her prayers, and then before the Infant-King, veiled in His Sacrament, she reiterated the promise of her dream : “ With Thy help, my God, I will give Thee my heart.”
She was so absorbed in thought over the lessons of the night, that