W^OW very white she did look always, the dainty Jg^ little one of Pierre and Felice, with her golden ^ hair and her blue, sweet eyes, as she played among the brown-skinned, dusky-locked children in the sunshine of the old quarter. And it is little wonder that they called her ^^ Snow-white,'^ the dainty sweet one, for very white she must have looked to Pierre that morning when he found her lying on the door-step, with the snowflakes all about her, and only her round, baby-blue eyes showing out of the whiteness.
"¦ See what Our Lady has sent us, Felice,'^ he said, taking the precious bundle in his big, brown hands, and carrying it in to his wife. ^' A little snow-white baby.''
Felice turned back the shawl, and brushed the snow-flakes from the baby's face, and there, sure enough, pinned to the little dress, was a card, and as Pierre bent down to see, he read, " For Pierre and Felice."
'^ There ! Did I not say ? '' he exclaimed joyously, '' it is for us that the Blessed Virgin has sent her."
And together they knelt, holding the little one between them, and giving thanks for her who had been sent to oheer their eliildless home and fill their empty hearts.
Only this they knew of the (coming of the little one, but, when they carried her to Pdre Martin for his blessing, the old priest remembered the slight, graceful women who knelt so long at Vespers the evening before, and who had, when the service was over, questioned him about the same Felice, the coif-feuse, and Pierre, her husband, who lived in the crumbling grey house beyond the church. He remembered too that the liand which dropped into his the heavv purse of gold, wore no ring upon its third finger, and *Pere Martin sighed as he h)oked into tiie baby's face, and murmured, '' Another Uimb for the fold."
But he did not speak of what he remembered: instead, lie only tohl Pierre and Felice that he would himself go with them to the office of the old notaire on the corner where all could be arranged, and that the next day after Mass they might bring the child to be christened.
And so they did, giving her the name of Snow-white. No other name would have suited her half so well. Snow-white she was when Pierre found her, and snow-white Felice always kept her. She was never too busy to put a few dainty tucks in baby's white slip, or to wash her face and brush her yellow curls. And Pierre never came up stairs now without stopping to wash his hands at the big tub down in
the court, so that he might not soil baby's dress when he took her in his arms, and he kissed her, oh, so gently, lest he should leave the impress of his lips on her's. Somehow, too, his step grew lighter and his laugh cheerier. Even down on the levee, and at the warehouse where he worked all day lifting and turning the big cotton bales with his sharp hook, he would sometimes forget and laugh softly because of the little one at home. Felice's songs, too, grew gayer as she tripped about at her tidy house-work, and her coiffures w^ere more elaborate and graceful than ever.
'^ It makes a difference, is it not so, madanie?" she would say when she dressed the hair of a fond young mother, who, perhaps, sat the while gently swinging tlie cradle of her lirst-born, '^ it makes a difference that there is now a little heart for your big one to hold. I know, it is all changed with me now that the Blessed Virgin has sent us a little one. It makes nothing now that I must go up and down the stair, that I nuist bring the water from the cistern in the court, or that I must be forever crimping and curling and sticking in the pins."
And it did indeed seem that all the household was changed. It was not a very great household to be sure, for besides Pierre and Felice, there were only Marta and Babette and 'Sieur Antoine in the little grey house.
Marta lived on the first floor, and from her apartments there came always the pleasing odor of burnt sugar, for it was in her own little back room that she made the white and yellow ropes of candy that she sold upon the streets every day. What delight it was to
her when Siiow-wliite couhi sit idoiu; and h<jld in lier chubby fist a stick of the crisp candy, sucking it till it ran down her wrists and chin and upon her little dress in streams of linked sweetness.
'^ It is by the reason that the little one likes it that I make this cream candy/' she would say to her customers, and so go her way with a lighter step and a. heavier purse because of the baby's coming.
But it was Babette who took care of Snow-white when Felice must be away. Bal)ette was a blanchis-seuse, anci was always washing, washing, washing in the big tubs down in the court. When Snow-white was old enough and the days were mild, Babette would take her shawl, and spreading it out over the warm bricks, put the baby upon it, shading her little lace from the sun with one of Pierre's big straw hats hung up on a stick. The child grew to love Babette, with her broad, round face, and her plump, white arms ; grew to love the warjii court where there was so much suidight and always the splashing of water and the flapping ot snowy clothes on the line.
And 'Sieur Antoine ? Ah, yes; perhaps more than any one else 'Sieur Antoine came to love the little gift-child. At first he would only pause when he met Felice on the stair and inquire after the Ittle one, but, by and by, he stopped in on his way up to his room to see the baby, all clean and sweet and white tucked away in her little bed. 'Sieur Antoine spoke but little: his violin talked for him, he would say, and he was always sad and often hungry too, Pierre thought. So when Snow-white was able to climb the stair without fear of her falling, Felice
sometimes would send her up to 'Sieur Antoine's room Avith a slice of bread or a bit of meat that he might find it waiting for him when he comes. But better than all this to the old man was just to have the child curl up in the window-seat and listen as he played, his music full of memories.
^'What is it makes me hurt here when you play, ^Sieur Antonie?" the child would ask, putting her little hand over her heart, and standing close beside his knee with her eyes full of tears. '' Is music then so sad."
'^ It is not music, little one," he would say, ^' it is life." It W'as the good P^re Martin himself who used to come for the child w4ien she was old enough to run about, and carry her Avith him to the church and to his own cozy little cottage behind with its vine-clad porch and its garden sweet Avith roses. He would pluck for her the heavy-headed buds that brushed her cheeks, and take her home with her apron full of fiow^ers, or her hands full of oranges from the tree beside his w indow. ^' May I not give the Virgin some of my flowers?" the child Avould say as she picked the finest to lay at Mary's feet w4ien they passed the church.
Thus among the good friends the little one grew and prospered, brightening the house and the square and the street with her presence. There was much to make her happy too ; her good friends and the sun-
shine and the flowers and the pictures in the church and the Blessed Virgin, and the good St. Joseph. Besides her own litth' church that she knew and loved so Avell, was the Baptist Mission across the street, where there were no shrine and no candles, only just bare walls and benches. How drear it must be inside, the child thought as she sat by the open window watching the peo])le come and go, their long, black shadows darting like big swallows on the pavement as they passed the liglit. Within the little organ squeaked and rasped, and once as she sat listening she heard the voices singing:
'' Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow."
The child kept saying the words over and over to herself. AV^hat could they mean, she wondered, this little one had never seen a snow-fall.
'' What is the snow like, Maman ? " she would say, '^ and why do you call me Snow-white ? "
*^ It is by the reason that my little one is pure like the snow itself, that 1 call her so ; ^' Felice would answer. ^^ Wait, petite, by and by you will see, perhaps, when the wind blows and the cold comes."
" How white is the snow," the child would ask, and taking a sample of cotton from the pocket of his blouse, Pierre would scatter the lint about her head saying, " whiter than that."
"¦ Whiter than this,'' Babette told her when she took the frothy suds from the tubs, and threw them up into the air till they fell in tiny water-bits upon the ground.
*^ Whiter than these," Pdre Martin would say as he lifted her up to his broad shoulder, and held her
aloft until her face was buried in a mass of orange blossoms above.
^' This is a strange winter/' said 'Sieur Antoine one night as he sat fingering his violin strings Avhich were taut and dry with the cold.
'* Will it snow/' asked the child eagerly.
'' Since eight years the snow has not come/' said Felice, "• and we remember it so well, is it not, the night before the little one came ? "
" I remember/' said Babette, '' and was it like this, all still and grey? I would not cover my tubs that night thinking to catch the rain, and the next morning, were they not beautiful, those tubs?"
"- Is it then so beautiful," asked the child. ''Will you not take your violin 'Sieur Antoine, and tell me how it looks?"
And 'Sieur Antoine ])layed. Those who knew felt the inaudible falling of the flakes, thicker and thicker, but gentle as the drawing of a shroud. He kept his eyes upon the child, and he saw her waiting, listening. Suddenly, with a twang of the strings and a twist of the bow^, there came the jingle of sleigh-bells, the sound of merry voices, and the little one's face was glad. But 'Sieur Antoine forgot, and he played on and on in the minor chords, till tears stood in the child's eyes, and Felice put out her hand to stay him.
" Is it then like that and that, the snow/' asked the little one when he was stopped. " Ah, it cannot be."
''Perhaps," said 'Sieur Antoine, and the others could not speak for fear; was it the music that held them ? But the next day it was come. Snow-white
felt it when she opened her eyes that morning, and saw the daylight peeping in pale and strange thro' the curtains, and creeping to the window, she looked out. The streets were already busy and merry with the voices of children, and how glad a time it was in the old city where the snow so seldom came, but more than all else the little one felt the wondrous purity of the white world without, and with an echo of 'Sieur Antoine's snow music in her ears, she folded her hands and knelt down.
"Holy Mother of God, wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow."
Ah, poor little one, how these old words came back to her afterwards, when this day was long since dead !
When again the peeping of the daylight thro' the parted curtains in the little grey house showed the snow piled high upon the street and housetop, only Pierre and Felice, with clasped hands, stood sadly by the window looking out, and, as once in the old sweet days, they had knelt and blessed the Virgin for giving them the little one, so now again they bowed together and prayed. What was it they were saying now, these bowed ones? Ah, I know not, only One heard, for they spoke not, for the prayer was in their hearts.
All day the snow fell, growing thicker and thicker, making even the air white with its whirling flakes, and,
as night came down, and the first lights began to shine across the little narrow street, a woman, scarce more than a child she seemed, with her rumpled yellow hair and her wide blue eyes, hurrying along in the cold, stopped now and then in a quiet doorway to rest. Was it the snow that blinded her eyes and hindered her feet, and what was it that kept sounding in her ears? Was it not then all true, all true the old sad music of 'Sieur Antoine's violin ? Oh God ! Oh God ! if she had only known ! And the woman pulled the shawl closer about her face ; the snow was blinding her eyes. Where was he now, the good 'Sieur Antonie, and Felice and Pierre and Marta and Babette ? Would they see her out there in the snow as she passed? The light shown but dimly thro' the drawn curtains of the little grey house, and the old Mission across the way was still and dark. What was it she had heard the voices singing there once in the old days?
^' Wash me—'^ Oli God ! Would anybody hear if she sang the old words over to herself? Holy Mother, keep yet a little while the chill that was creeping to her heart! Oh God, help till she might find P^re Martin and confess ! Poor little one, the burden was crushing her.
How quiet it was in the little church, where the candles burnt within the chancel sweet with the odor of incense. How quiet and how warm. Would they come by and by, the good Pdre Martin and Felice and Pierre, perhaps, and find her there waiting, their Snow-white little one?
Oh God! No. Snow-white no lona-er! Oh God!
The black shadows stole nearer and nearer. ^^Ave Maria, plena gracia —" the old words had slipped from her memory. How long had it been since she had said them ? " Tho' thy sins be as scarlet—" what was the rest ? Had she not heard once in the old days, or was Mary whispering in her ear as she lay now at her feet? The chill crej^t closer and closer, the blue eyes grew dim, but the lips parted, and One who called the Virgin mother heard the words of the old })rayer: '^ Wash me, and 1 shall be whiter than snow."
By and by they found Iht with the old sweet smile upon her stilled lips, and the old childish look over all the calm features, and thus had the snow given them back their little one, and brought home the lamb to the fold.