Annie Fellows Johnston.

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Brossard crouched in the straw, still crossing himself. This sudden
appearance of his master at such a time only added to Brossard's fright.
As for Jules, his knees shook until he could scarcely stand.

Henri, his curiosity lending him courage, cautiously opened the kitchen
door to peer out again. Emboldened by the silence, he flung the door
wide open, sending a broad stream of lamplight across the little group
in the barnyard. Without a word of greeting monsieur laid hold of the
trembling Jules and drew him nearer the door. Throwing open the child's
blouse, he examined the thin little shoulders, which shrank away as if
to dodge some expected blow.

"Go to my room," was all the old man said to him. Then he turned
fiercely towards Brossard. His angry tones reached Jules even after he
had mounted the stairs and closed the door. The child crept close to the
cheerful fire, and, crouching down on the rug, waited in a shiver of
nervousness for his uncle's step on the stair.

Meanwhile, Joyce, hurrying home all a-tingle with the excitement of her
adventure, wondered anxiously what would be the result of it. Under
cover of the dusk she slipped into the house unobserved. There was
barely time to dress for dinner. When she made her appearance monsieur
complimented her unusually red cheeks.

"Doubtless mademoiselle has had a fine promenade," he said.

"No," answered Joyce, with a blush that made them redder still, and that
caused madame to look at her so keenly that she felt those sharp eyes
must be reading her inmost thoughts. It disturbed her so that she upset
the salt, spilled a glass of water, and started to eat her soup with a
fork. She glanced in an embarrassed way from madame to monsieur, and
gave a nervous little laugh.

"The little mademoiselle has been in mischief again," remarked monsieur,
with a smile. "What is it this time?"

The smile was so encouraging that Joyce's determination not to tell
melted away, and she began a laughable account of the afternoon's
adventure. At first both the old people looked shocked. Monsieur
shrugged his shoulders and pulled his gray beard thoughtfully. Madame
threw up her hands at the end of each sentence like horrified little
exclamation points. But when Joyce had told the entire story neither of
them had a word of blame, because their sympathies were so thoroughly
aroused for Jules.

"I shall ask Monsieur Ciseaux to allow the child to visit here
sometimes," said madame, her kind old heart full of pity for the
motherless little fellow; "and I shall also explain that it was only
your desire to save Jules from ill treatment that caused you to do such
an unusual thing. Otherwise he might think you too bold and too - well,
peculiar, to be a fit playmate for his little nephew."

"Oh, was it really so improper and horrid of me, madame?" asked Joyce,
anxiously.

Madame hesitated. "The circumstances were some excuse," she finally
admitted. "But I certainly should not want a little daughter of mine to
be out after dark by herself on such a wild errand. In this country a
little girl would not think it possible to do such a thing."

Joyce's face was very sober as she arose to leave the room. "I do wish
that I could be proper like little French girls," she said, with
a sigh.

Madame drew her towards her, kissing her on both cheeks. It was such an
unusual thing for madame to do that Joyce could scarcely help showing
some surprise. Feeling that the caress was an assurance that she was not
in disgrace, as she had feared, she ran up-stairs, so light-hearted that
she sang on the way.

As the door closed behind her, monsieur reached for his pipe, saying, as
he did so, "She has a heart of gold, the little mademoiselle."

"Yes," assented madame; "but she is a strange little body, so untamed
and original. I am glad that her cousin returns soon, for the
responsibility is too great for my old shoulders. One never knows what
she will do next."

Perhaps it was for this reason that madame took Joyce with her when she
went to Tours next day. She felt safer when the child was in her sight.

"It is so much nicer going around with you than Marie," said Joyce,
giving madame an affectionate little pat, as they stood before the
entrance of a great square building, awaiting admission. "You take me to
places that I have never seen before. What place is this?" She stooped
to read the inscription on the door-plate:

"LITTLE SISTERS OF THE POOR."

Before her question could be answered, the door was opened by a wrinkled
old woman, in a nodding white cap, who led them into a reception-room at
the end of the hall.

"Ask for Sister Denisa," said madame, "and give her my name."

The old woman shuffled out of the room, and madame, taking a small
memorandum book from her pocket, began to study it. Joyce sat looking
about her with sharp, curious glances. She wondered if these little
sisters of the poor were barefoot beggar girls, who went about the
streets with ragged shawls over their heads, and with baskets in their
hands. In her lively imagination she pictured row after row of such
unfortunate children, marching out in the morning, empty-handed, and
creeping back at night with the results of the day's begging. She did
not like to ask about them, however, and, in a few minutes, her
curiosity was satisfied without the use of questions.

Sister Denisa entered the room. She was a beautiful woman, in the plain
black habit and white head-dress of a sister of charity.

"Oh, they're nuns!" exclaimed Joyce, in a disappointed whisper. She had
been hoping to see the beggar girls. She had often passed the convent in
St. Symphorien, and caught glimpses of the nuns, through the high barred
gate. She had wondered how it must feel to be shut away from the world;
to see only the patient white faces of the other sisters, and to walk
with meekly folded hands and downcast eyes always in the same old paths.

But Sister Denisa was different from the nuns that she had seen before.
Some inward joy seemed to shine through her beautiful face and make it
radiant. She laughed often, and there was a happy twinkle in her clear,
gray eyes. When she came into the room, she seemed to bring the outdoors
with her, there was such sunshine and fresh air in the cheeriness of
her greeting.

Madame had come to visit an old pensioner of hers who was in the home.
After a short conversation, Sister Denisa rose to lead the way to her.
"Would the little mademoiselle like to go through the house while
madame is engaged?" asked the nun.

[Illustration: JOYCE AND SISTER DENISA.]

"Oh, yes, thank you," answered Joyce, who had found by this time that
this home was not for little beggar girls, but for old men and women.
Joyce had known very few old people in her short life, except her
Grandmother Ware; and this grandmother was one of those dear, sunny old
souls, whom everybody loves to claim, whether they are in the family or
not. Some of Joyce's happiest days had been spent in her grandmother's
country home, and the host of happy memories that she had stored up
during those visits served to sweeten all her after life.

Old age, to Joyce, was associated with the most beautiful things that
she had ever known: the warmest hospitality, the tenderest love, the
cheeriest home-life. Strangers were in the old place now, and
Grandmother Ware was no longer living, but, for her sake, Joyce held
sacred every wrinkled face set round with snow-white hair, just as she
looked tenderly on all old-fashioned flowers, because she had seen them
first in her grandmother's garden.

Sister Denisa led the way into a large, sunny room, and Joyce looked
around eagerly. It was crowded with old men. Some were sitting idly on
the benches around the walls, or dozing in chairs near the stove. Some
smoked, some gathered around the tables where games of checkers and
chess were going on; some gazed listlessly out of the windows. It was
good to see how dull faces brightened, as Sister Denisa passed by with a
smile for this group, a cheery word for the next. She stopped to brush
the hair back from the forehead of an old paralytic, and pushed another
man gently aside, when he blocked the way, with such a sweet-voiced
"Pardon, little father," that it was like a caress. One white-haired old
fellow, in his second childhood, reached out and caught at her dress, as
she passed by.

Crossing a porch where were more old men sitting sadly alone, or walking
sociably up and down in the sunshine, Sister Denisa passed along a court
and held the door open for Joyce to enter another large room.

"Here is the rest of our family," she said. "A large one, is it not? Two
hundred poor old people that nobody wants, and nobody cares what
becomes of."

Joyce looked around the room and saw on every hand old age that had
nothing beautiful, nothing attractive. "Were they beggars when they were
little?" she asked.

"No, indeed," answered the nun. "That is the saddest part of it to me.
Nearly all these poor creatures you see here once had happy homes of
their own. That pitiful old body over by the stove, shaking with palsy,
was once a gay, rich countess; the invalid whom madame visits was a
marquise. It would break your heart, mademoiselle, to hear the stories
of some of these people, especially those who have been cast aside by
ungrateful children, to whom their support has become a burden. Several
of these women have prosperous grandchildren, to whom we have appealed
in vain. There is no cruelty that hurts me like such cruelty to
old age."

Just then another nun came into the room, said something to Sister
Denisa in a low voice, and glided out like a silent shadow, her rosary
swaying back and forth with every movement of her clinging black skirts.
"I am needed up-stairs," said Sister Denisa, turning to Joyce. "Will you
come up and see the sleeping-rooms?"

They went up the freshly scrubbed steps to a great dormitory, where,
against the bare walls, stood long rows of narrow cots. They were all
empty, except one at the farthest end, where an old woman lay with her
handkerchief across her eyes.

"Poor old Number Thirty-one!" said Sister Denisa. "She seems to feel her
unhappy position more than any one in the house. The most of them are
thankful for mere bodily comfort, - satisfied with food and shelter and
warmth; but she is continually pining for her old home surroundings.
Will you not come and speak to her in English? She married a countryman
of yours, and lived over thirty years in America. She speaks of that
time as the happiest in her life. I am sure that you can give her a
great deal of pleasure."

"Is she ill?" said Joyce, timidly drawing back as the nun started across
the room.

"No, I think not," was the answer. "She says she can't bear to be herded
in one room with all those poor creatures, like a flock of sheep, with
nothing to do but wait for death. She has always been accustomed to
having a room of her own, so that her greatest trial is in having no
privacy. She must eat, sleep, and live with a hundred other old women
always around her. She comes up here to bed whenever she can find the
slightest ache for an excuse, just to be by herself. I wish that we
could give her a little spot that she could call her own, and shut the
door on, and feel alone. But it cannot be," she added, with a sigh. "It
taxes our strength to the utmost to give them all even a bare home."

By this time they had reached the cot, over the head of which hung a
card, bearing the number "Thirty-one."

"Here is a little friend to see you, grandmother," said Sister Denisa,
placing a chair by the bedside, and stooping to smooth back the locks of
silvery hair that had strayed out from under the coarse white night-cap.
Then she passed quickly on to her other duties, leaving Joyce to begin
the conversation as best she could. The old woman looked at her sharply
with piercing dark eyes, which must have been beautiful in their youth.
The intense gaze embarrassed Joyce, and to break the silence she
hurriedly stammered out the first thing that came to her mind.

"Are you ill, to-day?"

The simple question had a startling effect on the old woman. She raised
herself on one elbow, and reached out for Joyce's hand, drawing her
eagerly nearer. "Ah," she cried, "you speak the language that my husband
taught me to love, and the tongue my little children lisped; but they
are all dead now, and I've come back to my native land to find no home
but the one that charity provides."

Her words ended in a wail, and she sank back on her pillow. "And this is
my birthday," she went on. "Seventy-three years old, and a pauper, cast
out to the care of strangers."

The tears ran down her wrinkled cheeks, and her mouth trembled
pitifully. Joyce was distressed; she looked around for Sister Denisa,
but saw that they were alone, they two, in the great bare dormitory,
with its long rows of narrow white cots. The child felt utterly helpless
to speak a word of comfort, although she was so sorry for the poor
lonely old creature that she began to cry softly to herself. She leaned
over, and taking one of the thin, blue-veined hands in hers, patted it
tenderly with her plump little fingers.

"I ought not to complain," said the trembling voice, still broken by
sobs. "We have food and shelter and sunshine and the sisters. Ah, that
little Sister Denisa, she is indeed a smile of God to us all. But at
seventy-three one wants more than a cup of coffee and a clean
handkerchief. One wants something besides a bed and being just Number
Thirty-one among two hundred other paupers."

"I am _so_ sorry!" exclaimed Joyce, with such heartfelt earnestness that
the sobbing woman felt the warmth of her sympathy, and looked up with a
brighter face.

"Talk to me," she exclaimed. "It has been so long since I have heard
your language."

While she obeyed Joyce kept thinking of her Grandmother Ware. She could
see her outdoors among her flowers, the dahlias and touch-me-nots, the
four-o'clocks and the cinnamon roses, taking such pride and pleasure in
her sweet posy beds. She could see her beside the little table on the
shady porch, making tea for some old neighbor who had dropped in to
spend the afternoon with her. Or she was asleep in her armchair by the
western window, her Bible in her lap and a smile on her sweet, kindly
face. How dreary and empty the days must seem to poor old Number
Thirty-one, with none of these things to brighten them.

Joyce could scarcely keep the tears out of her voice while she talked.
Later, when Sister Denisa came back, Joyce was softly humming a
lullaby, and Number Thirty-one, with a smile on her pitiful old face,
was sleeping like a little child.

"You will come again, dear mademoiselle," said Sister Denisa, as she
kissed the child good-by at the door. "You have brought a blessing, may
you carry one away as well!"

Joyce looked inquiringly at madame. "You may come whenever you like,"
was the answer. "Marie can bring you whenever you are in town."

Joyce was so quiet on the way home that madame feared the day had been
too fatiguing for her. "No," said Joyce, soberly. "I was only thinking
about poor old Number Thirty-one. I am sorrier for her than I was for
Jules. I used to think that there was nothing so sad as being a little
child without any father or mother, and having to live in an asylum.
I've often thought how lovely it would be to go around and find a
beautiful home for every little orphan in the world. But I believe, now,
that it is worse to be old that way. Old people can't play together, and
they haven't anything to look forward to, and it makes them so
miserable to remember all the things they have had and lost. If I had
enough money to adopt anybody, I would adopt some poor old grandfather
or grandmother and make'm happy all the rest of their days."



CHAPTER VIII.

CHRISTMAS PLANS AND AN ACCIDENT.

That night, when Marie came in to light the lamps and brush Joyce's hair
before dinner, she had some news to tell.

"Brossard has been sent away from the Ciseaux place," she said. "A new
man is coming to-morrow, and my friend, Clotilde Robard, has already
taken the position of housekeeper. She says that a very different life
has begun for little Monsieur Jules, and that in his fine new clothes
one could never recognize the little goatherd. He looks now like what he
is, a gentleman's son. He has the room next to monsieur's, all freshly
furnished, and after New Year a tutor is coming from Paris.

"But they say that it is pitiful to see how greatly the child fears his
uncle. He does not understand the old man's cold, forbidding manner, and
it provokes monsieur to have the little one tremble and grow pale
whenever he speaks. Clotilde says that Madame Gréville told monsieur
that the boy needed games and young companions to make him more like
other children, and he promised her that Monsieur Jules should come over
here to-morrow afternoon to play with you."

"Oh, good!" cried Joyce. "We'll have another barbecue if the day is
fine. I am so glad that we do not have to be bothered any more by those
tiresome old goats."

By the time the next afternoon arrived, however, Joyce was far too much
interested in something else to think of a barbecue. Cousin Kate had
come back from Paris with a trunk full of pretty things, and a plan for
the coming Christmas. At first she thought of taking only madame into
her confidence, and preparing a small Christmas tree for Joyce; but
afterwards she concluded that it would give the child more pleasure if
she were allowed to take part in the preparations. It would keep her
from being homesick by giving her something else to think about.

Then madame proposed inviting a few of the little peasant children who
had never seen a Christmas tree. The more they discussed the plan the
larger it grew, like a rolling snowball. By lunch-time madame had a list
of thirty children, who were to be bidden to the Noël fête, and Cousin
Kate had decided to order a tree tall enough to touch the ceiling.

When Jules came over, awkward and shy with the consciousness of his new
clothes, he found Joyce sitting in the midst of yards of gaily colored
tarletan. It was heaped up around her in bright masses of purple and
orange and scarlet and green, and she was making it into candy-bags
for the tree.

In a few minutes Jules had forgotten all about himself, and was as busy
as she, pinning the little stocking-shaped patterns in place, and
carefully cutting out those fascinating bags.

"You would be lots of help," said Joyce, "if you could come over every
day, for there's all the ornaments to unpack, and the corn to shell,
and pop, and string. It will take most of my time to dress the dolls,
and there's such a short time to do everything in."

"You never saw any pop-corn, did you, Jules?" asked Cousin Kate. "When I
was here last time, I couldn't find it anywhere in France; but the other
day a friend told me of a grocer in Paris, who imports it for his
American customers every winter. So I went there. Joyce, suppose you get
the popper and show Jules what the corn is like."

Madame was interested also, as she watched the little brown kernels
shaken back and forth in their wire cage over the glowing coals. When
they began popping open, the little seeds suddenly turning into big
white blossoms, she sent Rosalie running to bring monsieur to see the
novel sight.

"We can eat and work at the same time," said Joyce, as she filled a dish
with the corn, and called Jules back to the table, where he had been
cutting tarletan. "There's no time to lose. See what a funny grain this
is!" she cried, picking up one that lay on the top of the dish. "It
looks like Therese, the fish woman, in her white cap."

"And here is a goat's head," said Jules, picking up another grain. "And
this one looks like a fat pigeon."

He had forgotten his shyness entirely now, and was laughing and talking
as easily as Jack could have done.

"Jules," said Joyce, suddenly, looking around to see that the older
people were too busy with their own conversation to notice hers. "Jules,
why don't you talk to your Uncle Martin the way you do to me? He would
like you lots better if you would. Robard says that you get pale and
frightened every time he speaks to you, and it provokes him for you to
be so timid."

Jules dropped his eyes. "I cannot help it," he exclaimed. "He looks so
grim and cross that my voice just won't come out of my throat when I
open my mouth."

Joyce studied him critically, with her head tipped a little to one side.
"Well, I must say," she exclaimed, finally, "that, for a boy born in
America, you have the least dare about you of anybody I ever saw. Your
Uncle Martin isn't any grimmer or crosser than a man I know at home.
There's Judge Ward, so big and solemn and dignified that everybody is
half way afraid of him. Even grown people have always been particular
about what they said to him.

"Last summer his little nephew, Charley Ward, came to visit him.
Charley's just a little thing, still in dresses, and he calls his uncle,
Bill. Think of anybody daring to call Judge Ward, _Bill!_ No matter what
the judge was doing, or how glum he looked, if Charley took a notion, he
would go up and stand in front of him, and say, 'Laugh, Bill, laugh!' If
the judge happened to be reading, he'd have to put down his book, and no
matter whether he felt funny or not, or whether there was anything to
laugh at or not, he would have to throw his head back and just roar.
Charley liked to see his fat sides shake, and his white teeth shine.
I've heard people say that the judge likes Charley better than anybody
else in the world, because he's the only person who acts as if he wasn't
afraid of him."

Jules sat still a minute, considering, and then asked, anxiously, "But
what do you suppose would happen if I should say 'Laugh, Martin,
laugh,' to my uncle?"

Joyce shrugged her shoulders impatiently. "Mercy, Jules, I did not mean
that you should act like a three-year-old baby. I meant that you ought
to talk up to your uncle some. Now this is the way you are." She picked
up a kernel of the unpopped corn, and held it out for him to see. "You
shut yourself up in a little hard ball like this, so that your uncle
can't get acquainted with you. How can he know what is inside of your
head if you always shut up like a clam whenever he comes near you? This
is the way that you ought to be." She shot one of the great white grains
towards him with a deft flip of her thumb and finger. "Be free and open
with him."

Jules put the tender morsel in his mouth and ate it thoughtfully. "I'll
try," he promised, "if you really think that it would please him, and I
can think of anything to say. You don't know how I dread going to the
table when everything is always so still that we can hear the
clock tick."

"Well, you take my advice," said Joyce. "Talk about anything. Tell him
about our Thanksgiving feast and the Christmas tree, and ask him if you
can't come over every day to help. I wouldn't let anybody think that I
was a coward."

Joyce's little lecture had a good effect, and monsieur saw the wisdom of
Madame Gréville's advice when Jules came to the table that night. He had
brought a handful of the wonderful corn to show his uncle, and in the
conversation that it brought about he unconsciously showed something
else, - something of his sensitive inner self that aroused his
uncle's interest.

Every afternoon of the week that followed found Jules hurrying over to
Madame Gréville's to help with the Christmas preparations. He strung
yards of corn, and measured out the nuts and candy for each of the gay
bags. Twice he went in the carriage to Tours with Cousin Kate and Joyce,
to help buy presents for the thirty little guests. He was jostled by the
holiday shoppers in crowded aisles. He stood enraptured in front of
wonderful show windows, and he had the joy of choosing fifteen things
from piles of bright tin trumpets, drums, jumping-jacks, and
picture-books. Joyce chose the presents for the girls.

The tree was bought and set up in a large unused room back of the
library, and as soon as each article was in readiness it was carried in
and laid on a table beside it. Jules used to steal in sometimes and look
at the tapers, the beautiful colored glass balls, the gilt stars and
glittering tinsel, and wonder how the stately cedar would look in all
that array of loveliness. Everything belonging to it seemed sacred, even
the unused scraps of bright tarletan and the bits of broken candles. He
would not let Marie sweep them up to be burned, but gathered them


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Online LibraryAnnie Fellows JohnstonThe Gate of the Giant Scissors → online text (page 5 of 7)