The Gate of the Giant Scissors
Annie Fellows Johnston
Part 2 out of 2
"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
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
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
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
"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
"Talk to me," she exclaimed. "It has been so long since I have heard
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."
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 Greville 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 Noel fete, 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
"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
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
"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 Greville'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
Every afternoon of the week that followed found Jules hurrying over to
Madame Greville'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
carefully into a box and carried them home. There were several things
that he had rescued from her broom,--one of those beautiful red balls,
cracked on one side it is true, but gleaming like a mammoth red cherry
on the other. There were scraps of tinsel and odds and ends of ornaments
that had been broken or damaged by careless handling. These he hid away
in a chest in his room, as carefully as a miser would have hoarded a
bag of gold.
Clotilde Robard, the housekeeper, wondered why she found his candle
burned so low several mornings. She would have wondered still more if
she had gone into his room a while before daybreak. He had awakened
early, and, sitting up in bed with the quilts wrapped around him, spread
the scraps of tarletan on his knees. He was piecing together with his
awkward little fingers enough to make several tiny bags.
Henri missed his spade one morning, and hunted for it until he was out
of patience. It was nowhere to be seen. Half an hour later, coming back
to the house, he found it hanging in its usual place, where he had
looked for it a dozen times at least. Jules had taken it down to the
woods to dig up a little cedar-tree, so little that it was not over a
foot high when it was planted in a box.
Clotilde had to be taken into the secret, for he could not hide it from
her. "It is for my Uncle Martin," he said, timidly. "Do you think he
will like it?"
The motherly housekeeper looked at the poor little tree, decked out in
its scraps of cast-off finery, and felt a sob rising in her throat, but
she held up her hands with many admiring exclamations that made Jules
glow with pride.
[Illustration: "SITTING UP IN BED WITH THE QUILTS WRAPPED AROUND HIM."]
"I have no beautiful white strings of pop-corn to hang over it like
wreaths of snow," he said, "so I am going down the lane for some
mistletoe that grows in one of the highest trees. The berries are like
lovely white wax beads."
"You are a good little lad," said the housekeeper, kindly, as she gave
his head an affectionate pat. "I shall have to make something to hang on
that tree myself; some gingerbread figures, maybe. I used to know how to
cut out men and horses and pigs,--nearly all the animals. I must try it
again some day soon."
A happy smile spread all over Jules's face as he thanked her. The words,
"You are a good little lad," sent a warm glow of pleasure through him,
and rang like music in his ears all the way down the lane. How bright
the world looked this frosty December morning! What cheeriness there was
in the ring of Henri's axe as he chopped away at the stove-wood! What
friendliness in the baker's whistle, as he rattled by in his big cart!
Jules found himself whistling, too, for sheer gladness, and all because
of no more kindness than might have been thrown to a dog; a pat on the
head and the words, "You are a good little lad."
* * * * *
Sometime after, it may have been two hours or more, Madame Greville was
startled by a wild, continuous ringing of the bell at her front gate.
Somebody was sending peal after peal echoing through the garden, with
quick, impatient jerks of the bell-wire. She hurried out herself to
answer the summons.
Berthe had already shot back the bolt and showed Clotilde leaning
against the stone post, holding her fat sides and completely exhausted
by her short run from the Ciseaux house.
"Will madame send Gabriel for the doctor?" she cried, gasping for breath
at every word. "The little Monsieur Jules has fallen from a tree and is
badly hurt. We do not know how much, for he is still unconscious and his
uncle is away from home. Henri found him lying under a tree with a big
bunch of mistletoe in his arms. He carried him up-stairs while I ran
over to ask you to send Gabriel quickly on a horse for the doctor."
"Gabriel shall go immediately," said Madame Greville, "and I shall
follow you as soon as I have given the order."
Clotilde started back in as great haste as her weight would allow,
puffing and blowing and wiping her eyes on her apron at every step.
Madame overtook her before she had gone many rods. Always calm and
self-possessed in every emergency, madame took command now; sent the
weeping Clotilde to look for old linen, Henri to the village for
Monsieur Ciseaux, and then turned her attention to Jules.
"To think," said Clotilde, coming into the room, "that the last thing
the poor little lamb did was to show me his Christmas tree that he was
making ready for his uncle!" She pointed to the corner where it stood,
decked by awkward boyish hands in its pitiful collection of scraps.
"Poor little fellow!" said madame, with tears in her own eyes. "He has
done the best he could. Put it in the closet, Clotilde. Jules would not
want it to be seen before Christmas."
Madame stayed until the doctor had made his visit; then the report that
she carried home was that Jules had regained consciousness, and that,
as far as could be discovered, his only injury was a broken leg.
Joyce took refuge in the pear-tree. It was not alone because Jules was
hurt that she wanted to cry, but because they must have the Noel fete
without him. She knew how bitterly he would be disappointed.
A GREAT DISCOVERY.
"Only two more nights till Christmas eve, two more nights, two more
nights," sang Joyce to Jules in a sort of chant. She was sitting beside
his bed with a box in her lap, full of little dolls, which she was
dressing. Every day since his accident she had been allowed to make him
two visits,--one in the morning, and one in the afternoon. They helped
wonderfully in shortening the long, tedious days for Jules. True, Madame
Greville came often with broths and jellies, Cousin Kate made flying
visits to leave rare hothouse grapes and big bunches of violets;
Clotilde hung over him with motherly tenderness, and his uncle looked
into the room many times a day to see that he wanted nothing.
Jules's famished little heart drank in all this unusual kindness and
attention as greedily as the parched earth drinks in the rain. Still,
he would have passed many a long, restless hour, had it not been for
She brought over a photograph of the house at home, with the family
seated in a group on the front porch. Jules held it close while she
introduced each one of them. By the time he had heard all about
Holland's getting lost the day the circus came to town, and Jack's
taking the prize in a skating contest, and Mary's setting her apron on
fire, and the baby's sweet little ways when he said his prayers, or
played peek-a-boo, he felt very well acquainted with the entire Ware
family. Afterward, when Joyce had gone, he felt his loneliness more than
ever. He lay there, trying to imagine how it must feel to have a mother
and sisters and brothers all as fond of each other as Joyce's were, and
to live in the midst of such good times as always went on in the little
Monsieur Ciseaux, sitting by his fire with the door open between the two
rooms, listened to Joyce's merry chatter with almost as much interest as
Jules. He would have been ashamed to admit how eagerly he listened for
her step on the stairs every day, or what longings wakened in his
lonely old heart, when he sat by his loveless fireside after she had
gone home, and there was no more sound of children's voices in the
There had been good times in the old Ciseaux house also, once, and two
little brothers and a sister had played in that very room; but they had
grown up long ago, and the ogre of selfishness and misunderstanding had
stolen in and killed all their happiness. Ah, well, there was much that
the world would never know about that misunderstanding. There was much
to forgive and forget on both sides.
Joyce had a different story for each visit. To-day she had just finished
telling Jules the fairy tale of which he never tired, the tale of the
"I never look at those scissors over the gate without thinking of you,"
said Jules, "and the night when you played that I was the Prince, and
you came to rescue me."
"I wish I could play scissors again, and rescue somebody else that I
know," answered Joyce. "I'd take poor old Number Thirty-one away from
the home of the Little Sisters of the Poor."
"What's Number Thirty-one?" asked Jules. "You never told me about that."
"Didn't I?" asked Joyce, in surprise. "She is a lonely old woman that
the sisters take care of. I have talked about her so often, and written
home so much, that I thought I had told everybody. I can hardly keep
from crying whenever I think of her. Marie and I stop every day we go
into town and take her flowers. I have been there four times since my
first visit with madame. Sometimes she tells me things that happened
when she was a little girl here in France, but she talks to me oftenest
in English about the time when she lived in America. I can hardly
imagine that she was ever as young as I am, and that she romped with her
brothers as I did with Jack."
"Tell some of the things that she told you," urged Jules; so Joyce began
repeating all that she knew about Number Thirty-one.
It was a pathetic little tale that brought tears to Jules's eyes, and a
dull pain to the heart of the old man who listened in the next room. "I
wish I were rich," exclaimed Joyce, impulsively, as she finished. "I
wish I had a beautiful big home, and I would adopt her for my
grandmother. She should have a great lovely room, where the sun shines
in all day long, and it should be furnished in rose-color like the one
that she had when she was a girl. I'd dress her in gray satin and soft
white lace. She has the prettiest silvery hair, and beautiful dark eyes.
She would make a lovely grandmother. And I would have a maid to wait on
her, and there'd be mignonette always growing in boxes on the
window-sill. Every time I came back from town, I'd bring her a present
just for a nice little surprise; and I'd read to her, and sing to her,
and make her feel that she belonged to somebody, so that she'd be happy
all the rest of her days.
"Yesterday while I was there she was holding a little cut glass
vinaigrette. It had a big D engraved on the silver top. She said that it
was the only thing that she had left except her wedding ring, and that
it was to be Sister Denisa's when she was gone. The D stands for both
their names. Hers is Desire. She said the vinaigrette was too precious
to part with as long as she lives, because her oldest brother gave it
to her on her twelfth birthday, when she was exactly as old as I am.
Isn't Desire a pretty name?"
"Mademoiselle," called Monsieur Ciseaux from the next room,
"mademoiselle, will you come--will you tell me--what name was that?
Desire, did you say?"
There was something so strange in the way he called that name Desire,
almost like a cry, that Joyce sprang up, startled, and ran into the next
room. She had never ventured inside before.
"Tell me again what you were telling Jules," said the old man.
"Seventy-three years, did you say? And how long has she been back
Joyce began to answer his rapid questions, but stopped with a frightened
cry as her glance fell on a large portrait hanging over the mantel.
"There she is!" she cried, excitedly dancing up and down as she pointed
to the portrait. "There she is! That's Number Thirty-one, her very
"You are mistaken!" cried the old man, attempting to rise from his
chair, but trembling so that he could scarcely pull himself up on his
feet. "That is a picture of my mother, and Desire is dead; long dead."
[Illustration: "'THAT'S NUMBER THIRTY-ONE.'"]
"But it is _exactly_ like Number Thirty-one,--I mean Madame Desire,"
Monsieur looked at her wildly from under his shaggy brows, and then,
turning away, began to pace up and down the room. "I had a sister once,"
he began. "She would have been seventy-three this month, and her name
Joyce stood motionless in the middle of the room, wondering what was
coming next. Suddenly turning with a violence that made her start, he
cried, "No, I never can forgive! She has been dead to me nearly a
lifetime. Why did you tell me this, child? Out of my sight! What is it
to me if she is homeless and alone? Go! Go!"
He waved his hands so wildly in motioning her away, that Joyce ran out
of the room and banged the door behind her.
"What do you suppose is the matter with him?" asked Jules, in a
frightened whisper, as they listened to his heavy tread, back and forth,
back and forth, in the next room.
Joyce shook her head. "I don't know for sure," she answered,
hesitatingly, "but I believe that he is going crazy."
Jules's eyes opened so wide that Joyce wished she had not frightened
him. "Oh, you know that I didn't mean it," she said, reassuringly. The
heavy tread stopped, and the children looked at each other.
"What can he be doing now?" Jules asked, anxiously.
Joyce tiptoed across the room, and peeped through the keyhole. "He is
sitting down now, by the table, with his head on his arms. He looks as
if he might be crying about something."
"I wish he didn't feel bad," said Jules, with a swift rush of pity. "He
has been so good to me ever since he sent Brossard away. Sometimes I
think that he must feel as much alone in the world as I do, because all
his family are dead, too. Before I broke my leg I was making him a
little Christmas tree, so that he need not feel left out when we had the
big one. I was getting mistletoe for it when I fell. I can't finish it
now, but there's five pieces of candle on it, and I'll get Clotilde to
light them while the fete is going on, so that I'll not miss the big
tree so much. Oh, nobody knows how much I want to go to that fete!
Sometimes it seems more than I can bear to have to stay away."
"Where is your tree?" asked Joyce. "May I see it?"
Jules pointed to the closet. "It's in there," he said, proudly. "I
trimmed it with pieces that Marie swept up to burn. Oh, shut the door!
Quick!" he cried, excitedly, as a step was heard in the hall. "I don't
want anybody to see it before the time comes."
The step was Henri's. He had come to say that Marie was waiting to take
mademoiselle home. Joyce was glad of the interruption. She could not say
anything in praise of the poor little tree, and she knew that Jules
expected her to. She felt relieved that Henri's presence made it
impossible for her to express any opinion.
She bade Jules good-by gaily, but went home with such a sober little
face that Cousin Kate began to question her about her visit. Madame,
sitting by the window with her embroidery-frame, heard the account also.
Several times she looked significantly across at Cousin Kate, over the
"Joyce," said Cousin Kate, "you have had so little outdoor exercise
since Jules's accident that it would be a good thing for you to run
around in the garden awhile before dark."
Joyce had not seen madame's glances, but she felt vaguely that Cousin
Kate was making an excuse to get rid of her. She was disappointed, for
she thought that her account of monsieur's queer actions and Jules's
little tree would have made a greater impression on her audience. She
went out obediently, walking up and down the paths with her hands in her
jacket pockets, and her red tam-o'shanter pulled down over her eyes. The
big white cat followed her, ran on ahead, and then stopped, arching its
back as if waiting for her to stroke it. Taking no notice of it, Joyce
turned aside to the pear-tree and climbed up among the highest branches.
The cat rubbed against the tree, mewing and purring by turns, then
sprang up in the tree after her. She took the warm, furry creature in
her arms and began talking to it.
"Oh, Solomon," she said, "what do you suppose is the matter over there?
My poor old lady must be monsieur's sister, or she couldn't have looked
exactly like that picture, and he would not have acted so queerly. What
do you suppose it is that he can never forgive? Why did he call me in
there and then drive me out in such a crazy way, and tramp around the
room, and put his head down on his arms as if he were crying?"
Solomon purred louder and closed his eyes.
"Oh, you dear, comfortable old thing," exclaimed Joyce, giving the cat a
shake. "Wake up and take some interest in what I am saying. I wish you
were as smart as Puss in Boots; then maybe you could find out what is
the matter. How I wish fairy tales could be true! I'd say 'Giant
scissors, right the wrong and open the gate that's been shut so long,'
There! Did you hear that, Solomon Greville? I said a rhyme right off
without waiting to make it up. Then the scissors would leap down and
cut the misunderstanding or trouble or whatever it is, and the gate
would fly open, and there the brother and sister would meet each other.
All the unhappy years would be forgotten, and they'd take each other by
the hand, just as they did when they were little children, Martin and
Desire, and go into the old home together,--on Christmas Day, in
Joyce was half singing her words now, as she rocked the cat back and
forth in her arms. "And then the scissors would bring Jules a
magnificent big tree, and he'd never be afraid of his uncle any more.
Oh, they'd all have such a happy time on Christmas Day, in the morning!"
Joyce had fully expected to be homesick all during the holidays; but now
she was so absorbed in other people's troubles, and her day-dreams to
make everybody happy, that she forgot all about herself. She fairly
bubbled over with the peace and good-will of the approaching
Christmas-tide, and rocked the cat back and forth in the pear-tree to
the tune of a happy old-time carol.
A star or two twinkled out through the gloaming, and, looking up beyond
them through the infinite stretches of space, Joyce thought of a verse
that she and Jack had once learned together, one rainy Sunday at her
Grandmother Ware's, sitting on a little stool at the old lady's feet:
"Behold thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and
outstretched arm, and _there is nothing too hard for thee._" Her heart
gave a bound at the thought. Why should she be sitting there longing for
fairy tales to be true, when the great Hand that had set the stars to
swinging could bring anything to pass; could even open that long-closed
gate and bring the brother and sister together again, and send happiness
to little Jules?
Joyce lifted her eyes again and looked up, out past the stars. "Oh, if
you please, God," she whispered, "for the little Christ-child's sake."
When Joyce went back to the house, Cousin Kate sat in the drawing-room
alone. Madame had gone over to see Jules, and did not return until long
after dark. Berthe had been in three times to ask monsieur if dinner
should be served, before they heard her ring at the gate. When she
finally came, there was such an air of mystery about her that Joyce was
puzzled. All that next morning, too, the day before Christmas, it seemed
to Joyce as if something unusual were afloat. Everybody in the house was
Madame and Cousin Kate did not come home to lunch. She had been told
that she must not go to see Jules until afternoon, and the doors of the
room where the Christmas tree was kept had all been carefully locked.
She thought that the morning never would pass. It was nearly three
o'clock when she started over to see Jules. To her great surprise, as
she ran lightly up the stairs to his room, she saw her Cousin Kate
hurrying across the upper hall, with a pile of rose-colored silk
curtains in her arms.
Jules tried to raise himself up in bed as Joyce entered, forgetting all
about his broken leg in his eagerness to tell the news. "Oh, what do you
think!" he cried. "They said that I might be the one to tell you. She
_is_ Uncle Martin's sister, the old woman you told about yesterday, and
he is going to bring her home to-morrow."
Joyce sank into a chair with a little gasp at the suddenness of his
news. She had not expected this beautiful ending of her day-dreams to be
brought about so soon, although she had hoped that it would be sometime.
"How did it all happen?" she cried, with a beaming face. "Tell me about
"Yesterday afternoon madame came over soon after you left. She gave me
my wine jelly, and then went into Uncle Martin's room, and talked and
talked for the longest time. After she had gone he did not eat any
dinner, and I think that he must have sat up all night, for I heard him
walking around every time that I waked up. Very early this morning,
madame came back again, and M. Greville was with her. They drove with
Uncle Martin to the Little Sisters of the Poor. I don't know what
happened out there, only that Aunt Desire is to be brought home
"Your Cousin Kate was with them when they came back, and they had
brought all sorts of things with them from Tours. She is in there now,
making Aunt Desire's room look like it did when she was a girl."
"Oh, isn't it lovely!" exclaimed Joyce. "It is better than all the
fairy tales that I have ever read or heard,--almost too good to be
true!" Just then Cousin Kate called her, and she ran across the hall.
Standing in the doorway, she looked all around the freshly furnished
room, that glowed with the same soft, warm pink that colors the heart
of a shell.
"How beautiful!" cried Joyce, glancing from the rose on the
dressing-table to the soft curtains of the windows, which all opened
towards the morning sun. "What a change it will be from that big bare
dormitory with its rows of narrow little cots." She tiptoed around the
room, admiring everything, and smiling over the happiness in store for
poor old Number Thirty-one, when she should find herself in the midst of
Joyce's cup of pleasure was so full, that it brimmed over when they
turned to leave the room. Cousin Kate slipped an arm around her, and
kissed her softly on the forehead.
"You dear little fairy tale lover," she said. "Do you know that it is
because of you that this desert has blossomed? If you had never made all
those visits to the Little Sisters of the Poor, and had never won old
Madame Desire's love and confidence by your sympathy, if you had never
told Jules the story of the giant scissors, and wished so loud that you
could fly to her rescue, old monsieur would never have known that his
sister is living. Even then, I doubt if he would have taken this step,
and brought her back home to live, if your stories of your mother and
the children had not brought his own childhood back to him. He said that
he used to sit there hour after hour, and hear you talk of your life at
home, until some of its warmth and love crept into his own frozen old
heart, and thawed out its selfishness and pride."
Joyce lifted her radiant face, and looked towards the half opened
window, as she caught the sound of chimes. Across the Loire came the
deep-toned voice of a cathedral bell, ringing for vespers.
"Listen!" she cried. "Peace on earth,--good-will--oh, Cousin Kate! It
really does seem to say it! My Christmas has begun the day before."
Long before the Christmas dawn was bright enough to bring the blue
parrots into plain view on the walls of Joyce's room, she had climbed
out of bed to look for her "messages from Noel." The night before,
following the old French custom, she had set her little slippers just
outside the threshold. Now, candle in hand, she softly slipped to the
door and peeped out into the hall. Her first eager glance showed that
they were full.
Climbing back into her warm bed, she put the candle on the table beside
it, and began emptying the slippers. They were filled with bonbons and
all sorts of little trifles, such as she and Jules had admired in the
gay shop windows. On the top of one madame had laid a slender silver
pencil, and monsieur a pretty purse. In the other was a pair of little
wooden shoes, fashioned like the ones that Jules had worn when she
first knew him. They were only half as long as her thumb, and wrapped in
a paper on which was written that Jules himself had whittled them out
for her, with Henri's help and instructions.
"What little darlings!" exclaimed Joyce. "I hope he will think as much
of the scrap-book that I made for him as I do of these. I know that he
will be pleased with the big microscope that Cousin Kate bought
She spread all the things out on the table, and gave the slippers a
final shake. A red morocco case, no larger than half a dollar, fell out
of the toe of one of them. Inside the case was a tiny buttonhole watch,
with its wee hands pointing to six o'clock. It was the smallest watch
that Joyce had ever seen, Cousin Kate's gift. Joyce could hardly keep
back a little squeal of delight. She wanted to wake up everybody on the
place and show it. Then she wished that she could be back in the brown
house, showing it to her mother and the children. For a moment, as she
thought of them, sharing the pleasure of their Christmas stockings
without her, a great wave of homesickness swept over her, and she lay
back on the pillow with that miserable, far-away feeling that, of all
things, makes one most desolate.
Then she heard the rapid "tick, tick, tick, tick," of the little watch,
and was comforted. She had not realized before that time could go so
fast. Now thirty seconds were gone; then sixty. At this rate it could
not be such a very long time before they would be packing their trunks
to start home; so Joyce concluded not to make herself unhappy by longing
for the family, but to get as much pleasure as possible out of this
strange Christmas abroad.
That little watch seemed to make the morning fly. She looked at it at
least twenty times an hour. She had shown it to every one in the house,
and was wishing that she could take it over to Jules for him to see,
when Monsieur Ciseaux's carriage stopped at the gate. He was on his way
to the Little Sisters of the Poor, and had come to ask Joyce to drive
with him to bring his sister home.
He handed her into the carriage as if she had been a duchess, and then
seemed to forget that she was beside him; for nothing was said all the
way. As the horses spun along the road in the keen morning air, the old
man was busy with his memories, his head dropped forward on his breast.
The child watched him, entering into this little drama as
sympathetically as if she herself were the forlorn old woman, and this
silent, white-haired man at her side were Jack.
Sister Denisa came running out to meet them, her face shining and her
eyes glistening with tears. "It is for joy that I weep," she exclaimed,
"that poor madame should have come to her own again. See the change that
has already been made in her by the blessed news."
Joyce looked down the corridor as monsieur hurried forward to meet the
old lady coming towards them, and to offer his arm. Hope had
straightened the bowed figure; joy had put lustre into her dark eyes and
strength into her weak frame. She walked with such proud stateliness
that the other inmates of the home looked up at her in surprise as she
passed. She was no more like the tearful, broken-spirited woman who had
lived among them so long, than her threadbare dress was like the elegant
mantle which monsieur had brought to fold around her.
Joyce had brought a handful of roses to Sister Denisa, who caught them
up with a cry of pleasure, and held them against her face as if they
carried with them some sweetness of another world.
Madame came up then, and, taking the nun in her arms, tried to thank her
for all that she had done, but could find no words for a gratitude so
deep, and turned away, sobbing.
They said good-by to Sister Denisa,--brave Little Sister of the Poor,
whose only joy was the pleasure of unselfish service; who had no time to
even stand at the gate and be a glad witness of other people's Christmas
happiness, but must hurry back to her morning task of dealing out coffee
and clean handkerchiefs to two hundred old paupers. No, there were only
a hundred and ninety-nine now. Down the streets, across the Loire, into
the old village and out again, along the wide Paris road, one of them
was going home.
The carriage turned and went for a little space between brown fields and
closely clipped hedgerows, and then madame saw the windows of her old
home flashing back the morning sunlight over the high stone wall. Again
the carriage turned, into the lane this time, and now the sunlight was
caught up by the scissors over the gate, and thrown dazzlingly down into
Monsieur smiled as he looked at Joyce, a tender, gentle smile that one
would have supposed never could have been seen on those harsh lips. She
was almost standing up in the carriage, in her excitement.
"Oh, it has come true!" she cried, clasping her hands together, "The
gates are really opening at last!"
Yes, the Ogre, whatever may have been its name, no longer lived. Its
spell was broken, for now the giant scissors no longer barred the way.
Slowly the great gate swung open, and the carriage passed through. Joyce
sprang out and ran on ahead to open the door. Hand in hand, just as when
they were little children, Martin and Desire, this white-haired brother
and sister went back to the old home together; and it was Christmas Day,
in the morning.
* * * * *
At five o'clock that evening the sound of Gabriel's accordeon went
echoing up and down the garden, and thirty little children were
marching to its music along the paths, between the rows of blooming
laurel. Joyce understood, now, why the room where the Christmas tree
stood had been kept so carefully locked. For two days that room had been
empty and the tree had been standing in Monsieur Ciseaux's parlor.
Cousin Kate and madame and Berthe and Marie and Gabriel had all been
over there, busily at work, and neither she nor Jules had suspected what
was going on down-stairs.
Now she marched with the others, out of the garden and across the road,
keeping time to the music of the wheezy old accordion that Gabriel
played so proudly. Surely every soul, in all that long procession filing
through the gate of the giant scissors, belonged to the kingdom of
loving hearts and gentle hands; for they were all children who passed
through, or else mothers who carried in their arms the little ones who,
but for these faithful arms, must have missed this Noel fete.
Jules had been carried down-stairs and laid on a couch in the corner of
the room where he could see the tree to its best advantage. Beside him
sat his great-aunt, Desire, dressed in a satin gown of silvery gray that
had been her mother's, and looking as if she had just stepped out from
the frame of the portrait up-stairs. She held Jules's hand in hers, as
if with it she grasped the other Jules, the little brother of the olden
days for whom this child had been named. And she told him stories of his
grandfather and his father. Then Jules found that this Aunt Desire had
known his mother; had once sat on the vine-covered porch while he ran
after fireflies on the lawn in his little white dress; had heard the
song the voice still sang to him in his dreams:
"Till the stars and the angels come to keep
Their watch where my baby lies fast asleep."
When she told him this, with her hand stroking his and folding it tight
with many tender little claspings, he felt that he had found a part of
his old home, too, as well as Aunt Desire.
One by one the tapers began to glow on the great tree, and when it was
all ablaze the doors were opened for the children to flock in. They
stood about the room, bewildered at first, for not one of them had ever
seen such a sight before; a tree that glittered and sparkled and shone,
that bore stars and rainbows and snow wreaths and gay toys. At first
they only drew deep, wondering breaths, and looked at each other with
shining eyes. It was all so beautiful and so strange.
Joyce flew here and there, helping to distribute the gifts, feeling her
heart grow warmer and warmer as she watched the happy children. "My
little daughter never had anything like that in all her life," said one
grateful mother as Joyce laid a doll in the child's outstretched arms.
"She'll never forget this to her dying day, nor will any of us, dear
mademoiselle! We knew not what it was to have so beautiful a Noel!"
When the last toy had been stripped from the branches, it was Cousin
Kate's turn to be surprised. At a signal from madame, the children began
circling around the tree, singing a song that the sisters at the village
school had taught them for the occasion. It was a happy little song
about the green pine-tree, king of all trees and monarch of the woods,
because of the crown he yearly wears at Noel. At the close every child
came up to madame and Cousin Kate and Joyce, to say "Thank you, madame,"
and "Good night," in the politest way possible.
Gabriel's accordion led them out again, and the music, growing fainter
and fainter, died away in the distance; but in every heart that heard it
had been born a memory whose music could never be lost,--the memory of
one happy Christmas.
Joyce drew a long breath when it was all over, and, with her arm around
Madame Desire's shoulder, smiled down at Jules.
"How beautifully it has all ended!" she exclaimed. "I am sorry that we
have come to the place to say 'and they all lived happily ever after,'
for that means that it is time to shut the book."
"Dear heart," murmured Madame Desire, drawing the child closer to her,
"it means that a far sweeter story is just beginning, and it is you who
have opened the book for me."
Joyce flushed with pleasure, saying, "I thought this Christmas would be
so lonely; but it has been the happiest of my life."
[Illustration: "HE TOOK THE LITTLE FELLOW'S HAND IN HIS."]
"And mine, too," said Monsieur Ciseaux from the other side of Jules's
couch. He took the little fellow's hand in his. "They told me about the
tree that you prepared for me. I have been up to look at it, and now I
have come to thank you." To the surprise of every one in the room,
monsieur bent over and kissed the flushed little face on the pillow.
Jules reached up, and, putting his arms around his uncle's neck, laid
his cheek a moment against the face of his stern old kinsman. Not a
word was said, but in that silent caress every barrier of coldness and
reserve was forever broken down between them. So the little Prince came
into his kingdom,--the kingdom of love and real home happiness.
* * * * *
It is summer now, and far away in the little brown house across the seas
Joyce thinks of her happy winter in France and the friends that she
found through the gate of the giant scissors. And still those scissors
hang over the gate, and may be seen to this day, by any one who takes
the trouble to walk up the hill from the little village that lies just
across the river Loire, from the old town of Tours.
Back to Full Books