THE LITTLE COUNTESS
 THERE lived in Venice in the year 1288 a nobleman and his wife, who had one
little daughter. They had only this one child, and they did not wish for any
more. They thanked heaven for the precious little daughter, who was dearer
to them than anything else in the world. She was fairer than any child in
Venice, a little white lily with a heart of gold. Wherever she went people
were gladdened by the sight of her fair face, but the sunshine she carried
with her shone from her golden heart which was so kind and loving and true.
There was one thing that the little Countess loved above all others, and
that was to go to the daily service in the church close by. At first she
could only go when her mother took her on Sundays and saints' days, but when
she grew a little older, she would often go by herself. Every one in Venice
knew the little Countess, so she was quite safe, even when she went out
Now the church which the child loved was on the other side of the canal, and
there was no bridge across. So those who wished to go over were obliged to
take a boat at the ferry. But the boatmen were always ready to row the
little maiden across.
 After a while the nobleman began to think that his daughter went too often
to church. He was glad she was such a good child, but he did not want her to
become a saint. He meant her to marry some rich, great lord, and live a gay
life in the world. He was afraid that if she went to church so much she
would think too much of heaven and too little of earth.
So one day he told her she must no longer go each morning to church.
The little Countess had always been as good and obedient as a child could
be, but now she told her father that she could not obey him. God was her
Father too, and she must try to please Him. The father did not wish to seem
harsh, for he loved his little daughter dearly, so he said no more. But that
very day he went to the boatmen at the ferry and told them they were on no
account to row the little Countess across the water when she wanted to go to
church. He slipped some gold pieces into their hands to help them to
remember his command, and they promised faithfully they would do as he
Early the next morning the child came to the ferry as usual, and was going
to slip into the first boat when the boatman told her he could not take her
across. She went to the next boat, but there, too, the boatman said the
same. One by one they refused to take her across the canal.
The little Countess gazed at the men with her innocent, questioning eyes.
She wondered what it
 could mean. But the men looked shamefacedly away.
For one moment her lips began to tremble and her eyes filled with tears, but
then she wiped the tears quickly away and smiled as happily as ever.
Stepping down to the side of the canal, she took off her little blue apron
and laid it upon the water. Then quite fearlessly she stepped down upon it.
The boatmen started forward, but the child was in no danger. Not only did
the apron float like a boat, but it began to be wafted gently across the
canal, until it landed the little Countess safely on the other side. The
boatmen stood looking on in amazement while the child quietly entered the
The story of that wonderful crossing on the frail little boat was soon told
all over Venice, and the people talked in reverent tones of the child-saint
who dwelt among them. The young nobles begged for her hand in marriage when
she should be old enough, and her father found that he could choose from
among the richest and noblest of the land to wed his little daughter.
But God had chosen something better than earthly honours for the little
Countess. Before very long His messenger came to carry her across the dark
river of death to the golden city of heaven. She was not at all afraid to
go. Just as gladly and with as perfect a trust as she had stepped upon that
frail little boat to be carried across to God's house, she now set out to go
to the heavenly city.
 All Venice mourned for the little Countess, and they buried her in the
church she loved so well. In after years mothers, carrying their babies in
their arms, would often go and pray by the tomb of the little saint and ask
her to protect their little ones and save them from the perils of the water,
just as the good God had protected and saved her, when she was a child.
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