THE ANGELS' ROBE
 "WHY art thou crying, bambina mia?" asked the grandmother kindly as
Angelina crept close to the old woman's chair and hid her little wet face in
the rough woollen skirt. "Ah! but I can guess without any words. It is
hard, is it not, to be left at home to look after little Giovanino and the
old grandmother, while all the rest have gone to the great city to see the
festa. And it is hard, too, never to have a pair of shoes or a bright new
handkerchief nor any pretty necklace such as other little maidens wear."
"O Nonna," said Angelina, lifting her tear-stained face, "how canst thou
know it all? I think the blessed saints must tell thee all my secrets."
The old woman smiled and stroked the little brown head.
"It needs no telling to guess such things," she said. "It needs but the
old memory of what another little girl used to feel to make me understand
what goes on in thy little head. See here, bring thy stool and sit down
close to me, and while the bambinetto sleeps so soundly in his cradle I will
tell thee a story with a wonderful secret which will help thee to bear all
 "It was in this very village and in this very house that there lived, long
years ago, a little maid, whose name, like thine, was Angelina. She was but
eight years old when she learned the wonderful secret of which I shall tell
thee, so thou seest she was not very old and could not yet have been very
"She was not much like her name, this little Angelina. When we think of
angels we picture them tall and beautiful, with golden hair and wearing
wonderful robes of white, while Angelina was short and square, with dark,
straight hair and a little round face, which, though it looked honest and
pleasant, could never be called beautiful. And then her clothes! How unlike
they were to the white robes of the angels which one sees in the holy
pictures. She had, like thee, an old blue petticoat faded into so pale a
colour, that only the patches showed how gay the blue had once been. Her
camicetta had all its red washed out, so that it only kept the faint colour
of the apricot, and the old orange handkerchief which she tied over her dark
hair was little more than a rag.
"And if there was one thing more than another that Angelina loved and
longed for, it was to have fine clothes. Once or twice since she had grown
old enough for the walk, she had gone with her father to the distant town,
built high up on the hill. She had trotted along the winding white road and
climbed up to the city gates and entered what seemed to her a paradise.
 "For there, in the churches, she saw wonderful pictures of blue-robed
Madonnas, and angels with gold-embroidered robes. And almost better still,
she would catch glimpses of noble ladies as they came out of their palaces
and stepped into their carriages. How her eyes would shine at the sight of
the flowing silks, rich velvets, and dainty lace. She felt as if she had had
a glimpse of heaven. Of course all these soft, fine garments of wondrous
colour were only fit for noble ladies—for the Madonna and holy angels. But
oh! how she longed sometimes, when she sat at home sewing a new patch on
the old blue petticoat, for something new and bright. If she could have even
a new handkerchief, or a little necklace such as Margherita who lived next
door so proudly wore on Sundays! The envious tears filled Angelina's eyes
when she thought of Margherita, who wore shoes on festa days and carried a
white handkerchief with her prayer-book when she went to Mass.
"It always made the child cross and impatient when such thoughts filled her
head, and one day she had even slapped Tommaso's little chubby hands when in
his play he had torn the yellow handkerchief off her head and made another
rent in the faded border. But when he sobbed with hurt feelings and smarting
knuckles she took him in her arms and comforted him again, for she was
really a kind-hearted little maid. Then she told him stories of all the
grand times that were coming, when she would have as many gay silk
 handkerchiefs as she wanted, and he should have a little green hat with a
long red feather and a golden clasp.
"The children always loved to listen to Angelina's stories. She seemed to
open a little door and take them into a beautiful new world where every one
wore gay clothes and splendid jewels, where the children played with golden
toys, and the Madonna and saints looked on with the shining halos round
" 'Where dost thou fill thy head with all that nonsense?' her mother
would ask. 'Come, there is no time for idle tales, when so much work is
waiting to be done.'
"There was, indeed, little time for idling now that Angelina was old enough
to help in the house. There was Tommaso to be washed and dressed and kept
out of mischief, the baby to be carried about until he slept, and the sheep
to be tended on the hillside and led safely home at night.
"Then came a day when there was quite a stir in the village, and Angelina
came home at dusk breathless with the news she had to tell.
"The great lord who owned the castle close by was coming home, they said,
and would bring with him a beautiful young bride. Many gay nobles and ladies
would also come in his train, and the procession would pass close to the
village next day. It was to be a great festa for every one, and already
 beginning to weave garlands of flowers and green leaves.
" 'Well,' said Angelina's mother, when she heard the great news, 'thou
hast been a good child of late, and to-morrow thou shalt have a whole
holiday to see the show.'
"The little maid could scarcely sleep that night, her head was so full of
pleasure and excitement. There was only one little cloud to shadow her
happiness. If only she had something gay to wear, something that would show
it was a festa day! But all the wishing in the world wouldn't buy her a new
handkerchief or take away the patches on her petticoat, so she tried not to
think of it, and by-and-bye she fell asleep.
"The next day she woke very early and crept quietly out of doors before any
one was awake. What if it should be raining! But no, the sun was beginning
to rise clear and bright and the mists were rolling back. All was fair for
the great holiday.
"Angelina's little bare feet danced along with joy as she went down the
path and scrambled up the banks in search of wild flowers. Before long she
had filled her hands with sweet violets and sat down contentedly to tie them
into bunches. There was no need to hurry home, for this was a holiday, and
there was no work to do.
"But presently she heard her mother call to her, and she went quickly
towards the house, for the voice sounded sharp and troubled.
 " 'Where hast thou been, child?' said her mother, who sat rocking the
baby in her arms and looking down at it with an anxious face. 'I have been
calling and calling for thee. The little one is ill, I fear. See how hot and
flushed he is, and I cannot stop his wailing. Thou must go off to the town
as fast as thy feet can carry thee. I have no one else to send. The good
doctor there will give thee the medicine he needs.'
" 'O mother,' burst from Angelina's lips, 'but this is the festa day, and
I was to have a holiday to see the grand procession of lords and ladies.'
" 'I wish thou hadst a wiser head, and cared less for gay sights and grand
clothes,' said her mother sharply. 'But to-day there can be no holiday for
thee. Thou must be gone at once, and even so thou wilt scarcely be back
before nightfall, the way is so long. But see that thou dost not linger and
that the medicine is carried carefully home.'
"Angelina did not answer, but listened silently while her mother gave her
the directions how to find the doctor when once she should reach the town.
Then she turned obediently and began to go down the steep mountain path that
led to the high-road below.
"But though she seemed so quiet and obedient, her heart was full of bitter
disappointment and angry thoughts.
"As long as she was in sight of the little house she walked swiftly on, but
by-and-bye, when she reached
 the white, dusty high-road, her feet began to
drag slowly along until at last she stopped and sat down on the grass at the
"It really was very hard that the baby should fall ill that one day of all
others. It was very hard that she must fetch the medicine. It was very hard
that she should never have a holiday, but always work from morning until
night, and have such poor clothes to wear.
"The sun was shining brightly now, but there was no sunshine in Angelina's
face. A sullen, dark cloud had gathered there. She pushed the white dust to
and fro with her little brown toes, and then began to make now a round O,
now a cross with her great toe, as if that was the most important work in
" 'I wish,' she went on, muttering gloomily to herself, 'I wish I had a
pair of shoes. When I am always sent so far to fetch whatever is needed, it
wears out all the soles of my feet.'
"She stopped drawing crosses and turned up one foot to see if there were
any holes or worn-out places. It was quite a disappointment to find the sole
as hard and firm as a piece of tanned leather.
"Then a gentler look began to steal over the sullen little face, and she
looked soberly down at the crosses in the dust. They reminded her of the
words of the kind old priest when he had explained to her the meaning of a
cross and had bidden her always try to do her duty as cheerfully as
possible. In a moment
 the clouds broke and the sunshine once more shone
in Angelina's eyes.
" 'To think,' she said, 'that I should care more for fine sights than the
poor bambinetto! But he shall have his medicine now as quickly as I can
"She started at a steady trot along the road, eager to make up for lost
time, and thinking only now of the sick baby and poor, anxious mother at
home. She had many a mile to go before she came to the hill on which the
town was built, and then there was a weary climb before she reached the city
gates. The little maid was indeed very hot and very tired by the time she
had done her mother's bidding and could turn her face homewards carrying the
precious medicine bottle rolled up safely in her apron. She never stopped to
look at the shops or the gay crowds to-day, but as she passed a little quiet
church she slipped in and knelt for a moment in a dim corner before her
favourite picture of the Madonna and white-robed angels.
"Very carefully then she unwrapped the precious little bottle from her
apron and held it out in both hands.
" 'Mary Mother,' she prayed, 'for the sake of the Gesu Bambino, bless our
bambinetto and grant that this medicine may make him better.'
"The Madonna looked down with such kind eyes that Angelina was sure that
all would be well, and
 it was with a happy heart that she left the church and started on her
"The sun was beginning to set when at last Angelina came in sight of the
little village and turned from the high-road to climb the mountain pathway.
She was very tired, and just then she knocked her foot against a great stone
that lay in the way. The pain was sharp, and she stopped for a moment to
rest by the roadside to rub the place that hurt so badly.
"She was bending down to touch the foot just to see how much it was hurt
when something bright caught her eye shining there in the dust. It was
something that shone as brightly as a star. She stretched out her hand and
lifted it up and then gave a cry of surprise and delight. It was a beautiful
gold brooch set with shining jewels. The light that looked like a star came
from the white stone in the middle, and round it was a circle of stones blue
as the summer sky.
"For a moment Angelina gazed at the beautiful thing lying in her hand, as
if she could not believe it was real. She rubbed her eyes to be sure she was
awake and not dreaming. Then she looked upwards as if she thought it must
have fallen from the sky. Surely such a beautiful thing could not belong to
"Then in a moment she guessed where it had come from. There were marks of
carriage wheels and many feet in the white dust of the high-road.
 The lords
and ladies had surely passed by that way, and one of the beautiful ladies
must have dropped this treasure.
"But even as these thoughts came rushing through her mind, her hand closed
tightly over the brooch. She knew that it did not belong to her, and that
she must at once show it to her mother, and then take it to the old priest,
who would return it to the beautiful lady.
"But oh! if only she might keep it, just for a few hours. It could do no
harm if she hid it for one night and looked at it once more in the morning.
The longer she looked at it the more she felt that she could not part with
it at once, and so at last she pinned it inside a fold of her camicetta, and
when it was quite hidden she got up and limped slowly home.
"The mother was standing watching for the child as Angelina came up the
" 'Thou art a good little messenger,' she said, 'and hast done thine
errand quickly. After all, though, there was no need for such great haste,
for the little one is better.'
" 'Ah!' said Angelina, 'I knew the Madonna would not forget him.'
"Then she stopped, and a troubled look came into her eyes. Somehow she felt
ashamed to think of the kind, gentle look upon the Madonna's face. Would the
Madonna smile upon her so kindly now?
 " 'Thou art tired, child,' said her mother; 'come in and rest. I have
saved thy dinner for thee.'
"But Angelina was not very hungry and did not seem inclined to rest.
" 'The walk has overtired thee,' said her mother kindly. 'Go now to bed
and sleep soundly until the morning.'
"Angelina crept into bed and shut her eyes as if she were asleep. But her
head was full of busy thoughts. She had slipped the wonderful brooch under
her pillow and lay holding it with one little hot hand. Would the Madonna
and the Gesu Bambino be angry with her for hiding this treasure? But
whatever happened she could not part with it. She thought if she might only
keep it she would never be unhappy again. What did it matter if her clothes
were old and patched and she had no shoes, if only she might always keep the
beautiful brooch. So at last she fell asleep dreaming of stars that shone in
a blue sky.
"Next morning she woke with the remembrance that something wonderful had
happened. Then she quickly thrust her hand under her pillow to feel if the
brooch were really there. She dared scarcely look at it, but once more
pinned it carefully in the folds of her dress and went softly out of doors.
"When she reached the shelter of the olive-trees and had seated herself
behind one of the old, gnarled grey trunks, she felt at last that it was
safe to take
 out her treasure. Oh, how beautiful it was! Almost more beautiful in the
clear morning light than she had dreamed it could be. She held it up to
catch the sunbeams that came sliding through the silver screen of the olive
leaves, then she pinned it in the front of her old red camicetta, and sat
silent with clasped hands and burning cheeks.
"What visions of splendour filled her head. She was no longer a little,
ragged, bare-footed child sitting in an olive wood, but a grand lady in a
flowing silken gown and scarlet pointed shoes. All around her were other gay
ladies, but they all looked with envy upon her, and pointed at the wonderful
star with its circle of blue, which shone upon her breast.
"But there was not much time for day-dreams, and soon the brooch was hidden
away again and Angelina went back to her work. Strange to say, she did not
feel as happy as usual that day. Nothing seemed to go well. She was
impatient with the children and careless about her work, which made her
mother scold. But worst of all was the strange, frightened feeling that
seemed to choke her when she saw the old priest come slowly up the path
towards the house. How glad she had always been to see him before. Why was
it that now she only wished she might run away, and hide her burning cheeks?
"Even before the old man began to speak she guessed why he had come. But
she listened eagerly while he told her mother how one of the ladies at the
 castle had lost a valuable brooch and how it was thought it might be lying
along the road. Of course, if any one found it, they would bring it at once
to him, but he wanted all the children to look carefully for it.
" 'The little ones have such sharp eyes,' he said. And then patting
Angelina's head he added, 'And this little maid has, I know, a special eye
for beautiful things.'
"Then he asked how little Giovannino fared, and smiled down very kindly on
Angelina when he heard the tale of her lost holiday and the long walk to
fetch the medicine.
" 'There is a special blessing on feet that cheerfully run errands for
others,' he said. 'I think the angels make golden shoes for such little
"But Angelina's heart was heavy, and the kindly words of the old priest
only seemed to make her more unhappy. If his eyes could but see what was
hidden in the folds of her dress, would he still look so kindly on her?
"There was much talk among the village folk about the missing brooch. They
searched for it high and low, but not a trace of it could be found. Often
when she listened to the talk Angelina's little guilty heart would thump so
loudly that she wondered every one around her did not hear the beating
"She scarcely dared take the beautiful thing out now to look at it, and she
almost began to wish she had never seen it. Night after night she sobbed
her-  self to sleep, and those tears seemed gradually to wash away all the
longing to keep the forbidden treasure.
"Then at last she could bear it no longer, and very early one morning,
before the village was astir, she found her way to the old priest's house.
She waited patiently outside the door until the church bell began to ring,
and then she saw him come out and cross the path towards the church.
"At first the old man did not notice the child, but presently a gentle pull
at his cassock made him look down.
" 'Why, what is the matter, little one?' he said. 'Is the bambinetto ill
"But Angelina only shook her head. She was sobbing so bitterly that she
could not speak.
" 'Come and tell me all about it,' said the kind old voice, and he took her
hand and led her back into the house.
"It was a long story and Angelina could not tell it very clearly, but the
old priest understood. He took the brooch from the little trembling hand and
locked it carefully away. Then he sat looking at the child with grave, kind
" 'Ah,' he said, 'thou hast learned the lesson that fine things cannot
make thee happy, and an honest and clear conscience is worth all the jewels
in the world. It matters but little if we wear old and patched earthly
garments, if only our heavenly
 robe is kept pure and stainless. But now as
thou hast done thy best to right the wrong, I will not punish thee. Only
remember the lesson thou hast learnt.'
"What a different world it seemed to Angelina as she knelt in the quiet
little church that sunny morning listening to the old priest's voice as he
chanted the service. She was no longer ashamed to think of the Madonna and
the holy angels. It seemed as if a dark cloud had been rolled away.
"And then as she knelt a strange thing happened.
"She thought one of those same white-robed angels stood at her side, and
bending down gently took her hand and led her up a flight of golden steps
until they came to a shining room. There other angels sat at work, and
before them lay a beautiful shining white robe, sewed with pearls and
precious jewels, more exquisite than anything Angelina had ever dreamed of.
And as she gazed spell-bound one of the angels put beside it a pair of
little golden shoes.
" 'These are for the little feet that are never too tired to run errands
for others,' said the angel with a gentle smile.
" 'We have sewn her robe with every kind act and unselfish thought that we
could gather,' said another, 'for we must make it fit to be worn in the
presence of the King. But alas! there is here one stain we cannot cover.'
 "Angelina hung her head and a great sob choked her, but the angel who held
her hand looked down with a comforting smile.
" 'See,' the angel said, 'I have brought something that will quite cover
"The angel held out an open hand, and there on the palm lay some wondrous
gleaming pearls, large enough to cover the ugly mark upon the robe.
" 'Tears of repentance and sorrow,' said the angel; 'the robe is not
spoilt after all.'
"Then the vision faded and Angelina found she was kneeling in the church
and the service was ended.
"But she never forgot the secret of that heavenly robe. What did it matter
now if she had only old worn clothes and a faded handkerchief? Her robe was
in the angels' keeping, and her only care would be to see that nothing
should ever again stain its pure beauty."
The old grandmother's voice ceased, and little Angelina looked up with an
awed light in her eyes.
"Of course, after she saw the angels' robe she would never care if her
petticoat was old and her feet were bare," she said thoughtfully.
"No," said her grandmother, "for she knew that some day she would wear
those golden shoes."
"And was she very, very careful never to stain the robe again?" asked
A sad look came into the old grandmother's eyes.
 "She tried her very best," she said, "but I fear there were many stains
that spoilt the angels' work."
"But there would always be the sorry tears to cover them," said Angelina,
"and the kind angel would gather them safely as they fell."
"Ah, yes," said the grandmother softly, "thou art right, little one. There
is no white robe that is not sewn with pearls."