That night on our return we poured into Teresa’s sympathetic ears all that had occurred during our eventful visit that afternoon at Celestina’s house. Then, somewhat later, as I was helping her with the dishes in the kitchen, Teresa said, “Do you know, Lisita, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see the Breton converted and changed by God’s power into a decent, respectable man. No one seems to be able to resist Paula when she begins to speak of God’s love. She seems truly inspired by His Holy Spirit. Child though she is, she surely is His messenger to all with whom she comes in contact. But there’s just one thing—” Teresa seemed to hesitate to express herself, then finally she continued, “I cannot seem to shake off the feeling that she will not be with us much longer. I believe somehow—I know it sounds absurd in one way, but I have a feeling that God will call her to His side some day soon.”
“Oh, Teresa!” I cried, “how can you say such a thing! Why, she’s never sick! She’s much bigger and stronger and more vigorous than even I am. And besides, I never, never could bear it to have Paula taken from me!”
“Hush! Hush, child! Don’t shout that way, Paula will hear you! Besides it’s just a foolish idea of mine, maybe. But if God should wish it—But there, as you say, what would we do without the dear girl?”
Later when we were alone in our bedroom I said to Paula in an anxious tone, “You don’t feel sick; do you, Paula?”
She looked at me, surprised—“I should say not!” She laughed, “What put such a notion in your head? Do I look as if I was sick?”
I was so relieved! Teresa was quite mistaken!
“No!” continued Paula, “on the contrary, I never felt better in my life. Since I had that little touch of scarletina a while ago I’ve never had an ache or a pain. In fact, as I look around and see so much sickness and suffering, I long to share my good health with these other less fortunate ones.”
And as I looked at her tall, well-developed figure outlined against the window, I laughed at my foolish fears. But a few moments later, as she knelt there in the moonlight in her long white night-dress, and as I looked at that pure, beautiful face with the eyes closed in prayer, with its frame of glorious hair, I knew that never had I seen anything so lovely as this child companion of mine just budding into womanhood; and the one word “angel” seemed to express the sum of my thoughts regarding this dear one who had come into my life, and who had transformed so many other lives around me.
As she rose at the conclusion of the prayer, finding me still on my feet, she said with surprise in her tone, “Not in bed yet, Lisita?”
“No,” I said, confused that she should find me still seated on the edge of my bed, lost in my own reflections.
Paula suddenly went to the window and looked out, “Oh, Lisita!” she exclaimed, “how wonderful! Come and see.”
The storm had stopped in the late afternoon, and now the moon shone in all its splendor, touching the snow with silver and making millions of its crystals sparkle like diamonds in the moonlight.
“How white and pure and beautiful everything is!” said Paula. “Do you remember, Lisita, how only yesterday we remarked how squalid and dirty the whole village looked? And now, what a lovely change!” She hesitated a moment, and then continued in her quiet, simple way. “It’s God that has done it! It’s quite a bit like when one gives their heart to Jesus Christ. He takes it stained and scarred with sin, and then He makes it white like the snow. Don’t you see, Lisita?”
“Yes, I see,” I said.
“Do you really see, dear Lisita?” And Paula drew me quite close to her. “Then why don’t you give your heart to Him? I do love you so! You see, I don’t wish to seem to be any better than you—but when I get thinking of the fact that you never really have given your heart to Him, and if one of us should die—”
I could not bear another word. The very idea of death either for Paula or myself was simply unbearable. “Stop!” I cried, in such a terrible tone that Paula, I could see, was frightened. “You mustn’t die! I cannot live, and I won’t live without you! I know I’m not good, but if you weren’t here to help me what would I do?”
My overwrought nerves, due to the happenings at that afternoon visit at Celestina’s, combined with what Teresa had suggested, were too much for me, and here I broke down completely.
“Oh, Lisita!”—there was real consternation in Paula’s voice, “I’m so sorry I hurt you! You must get to bed, and don’t let’s talk any more tonight.”
I dreamed of Paula the whole night long. I saw her either dying or dead, or in heaven with the angels; but in the morning all my fears had disappeared, and a few days later I even forgot the whole thing.
A week passed, and we had seen nothing of the Breton. Paula mentioned him several times, and I know she was praying for him. Teresa had gone to see Celestina, but she hadn’t seen anything of him either. Apparently he had gone out early each day, and had returned very late. He had been the principal subject of our conversation as each night we came together in the big warm kitchen on those long winter evenings. Finally one evening, just as we were finishing the dishes, there came two hesitating knocks on the outer door.
“I wonder who can be calling at this hour,” said Rosa.
“It sounds like some child that can’t knock very well,” said Catalina. “Open the door, Lisita!”
Only too glad to abandon my towel, I ran to open the door, but hardly had I done so when I remained petrified and dumb with surprise, hardly able to believe my own eyes. There stood the Breton, twisting his battered cap nervously between his bony fingers. The little oil lamp, which we always kept lighted at night in the passageway, illuminated his pale face and gaunt figure.
“Good evening, mademoiselle,” he finally managed to say, and then he stopped, apparently as embarrassed as I was.
“Who it is?” said Teresa, as she started to come to my rescue.
“It’s the Breton,” I said.
“Well, tell him to come in,” said the old woman kindly.
As timidly as a child the Breton advanced over the threshold a few paces, looking about him in a kind of lost way until his eyes encountered Paula, and then he seemed to recover his ease of mind.
“I wish to speak with the master,” he said—directing his words to Teresa.
She led him into the study where my father sat, and left them together and then joined us in the kitchen once more.
“I declare!” said Rosa. “Think of the Breton calling on us! I thought he hated Father since that day he discharged him from the factory two or three years ago.”
“The Breton knows very well that when your father got rid of him he well deserved it,” said Teresa, as she adjusted her spectacles and settled down to her knitting.
My father did not keep him long. From the kitchen we could hear the door open and my father’s voice bidding the Breton a kindly “good night.” Evidently the interview, although short, had been quite a cordial one.
“Go, tell the Breton to come into the kitchen, Lisita,” said Teresa.
I wondered as I saw him enter with such a humble, frank air, and with a new look of peace that seemed almost to beautify the brutalized face.
“Mademoiselle Paula,” he said as he stopped in the middle of our kitchen, “I wish to say a word or two.”
“To me alone?” said Paula rising.
He hesitated a moment. “No,” he said finally, “I think it’s better to say it to you before everybody here. Do you remember how you spoke to me on the afternoon of the great snow? I don’t remember very well what you said. My head wasn’t in very good condition as I’d left my wits behind at the liquor shop. But I know you spoke to me of my mother and you also said that God would change me if I really desired. I didn’t dare believe such a thing, Mademoiselle—it seemed just a bit too good to believe. That night I simply couldn’t sleep. I seemed to feel my hands in yours and to hear your voice saying, ‘I’ll do what I can to help you.’ At last I couldn’t stand it any longer. I got out on the floor and knelt there before God, and I asked Him to have mercy on me, and change my wicked old heart if it were possible.”
Here he stopped to wipe away the great tears that were rolling down his cheeks. Then pretty soon he continued, “God did indeed have mercy on me. I deserved to be refused, but apparently He doesn’t treat people as they deserve to be treated, and now, mademoiselle, will you continue to help me as you promised to do?”
“Yes, of course,” said Paula; “What can we do for you?”
“Just one thing—pray for me! That’s what I need more than anything else. I want to be faithful to Him and serve Him, but I don’t know how to begin, and when one has served the devil as many years as I have it’s hard to change masters.”
“The Lord Jesus will help you,” answered Paula.
“He’s already done it, Mademoiselle,” said the Breton. “If not, how could I have endured these last days. At first I had a raging thirst for more drink until I nearly went crazy. Then my old companions called me out and urged me to go and drink with them, and I had almost yielded when suddenly I cried to the Lord Jesus to help me, and then a wonderful thing happened! All desire for the drink went away, and I’ve been free ever since! Then, too, I had no work, and my wife taunted me with that, and I wandered up and down looking everywhere for something to do. Unfortunately, everybody knew me and knew too much about me, so there was no work for such as me.” Then suddenly the poor, thin face was illuminated with a smile as the Breton triumphantly said, “I came to this door tonight as the very last resort, never dreaming that my old master really would employ me, but just see the goodness of God! I can face the world again, for I’m going back to my old bench at the master’s factory!”
“My! How glad I am!” exclaimed Paula.
“Yes, Mademoiselle, but I have you to thank for your great kindness to me.”
“I,” said Paula surprised; “why, what have I done?”
“You, Mademoiselle! You made me feel that you really loved me. Also, you persuaded me that God loved me, miserable sinner that I am. But if tonight in this district you find one more honorable man and one criminal less, let us first thank God, and then you, Mademoiselle!”
“Do you own a New Testament?” said Paula as the Breton started to leave.
“A New Testament; what’s that?”
“It’s a book—a part of the Bible—that tells us about the Lord Jesus, and how He saves us from the guilt and power of sin, and how we can serve Him.”
“Well, Mademoiselle,” replied the Breton, “if it’s a book, it’s of no use to me. I don’t know how to read!”
Paula looked at him with a mixture of surprise and pity.
“I might have been able to read,” continued the poor fellow. “My mother sent me to school, but I scarcely ever actually appeared in the schoolroom. The streets in those days were too attractive a playground.”
“But you could begin to learn even now!”
“No, Mademoiselle,” and the Breton shook his head sadly, “It’s too late now to get anything of that sort in this dull head.”
Paula said nothing more at the time, but I could see that she had something in her mind relative to this new problem.