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Paula the Waldensian | Eva Lecomte

A Treasure Restored

Our birthdays generally passed without celebration, either in the form of presents or parties, principally because my father disliked holiday festivities, as they seemed to bring back to him more bitterly the loss of her who could no longer share their joy with him. On New Year’s Day, however, he always gave a little gift to each one of us. It was our custom to write him in turn a “Happy New Year” letter.

Louis would always come from school to visit us during his New Year’s holidays, and we had quite a number of visitors who bored us dreadfully. For me it was a time of good resolutions, and I would go to Teresa and say invariably as I embraced her, “I wish you a very happy New Year, Teresa. Will you please forgive me for all the trouble I have caused you this past year? And this new year, I am going to be very good.” Unfortunately Teresa never saw any change.

As Christmas time drew near, Paula questioned me as to how we celebrated that day.

“We don’t celebrate it,” I said.

“Oh, Lisita, is that true? You do nothing special on that day?” questioned my poor cousin, surprised.

“No, Christmas with us is not nearly so important as the New Year. Oh, yes; I generally have to put on my Sunday dress, and then I can’t play, for Teresa is afraid I’ll soil it.”

“Oh,” said Paula whose great eyes seemed to contemplate an invisible splendor. “In my country we always had a Christmas tree, and celebrated the birth of the Lord Jesus.”

“Tell me about it,” I said, “I have heard about these Christmas celebrations, but have never seen any.”

“Well,” said Paula, “sit down here, close to the fire, and I’ll tell you what we did last year. Four of our men went to the mountains and cut down a beautiful pine tree. They had to go up to their waists in snow, and what a job it was to bring it all the way down to Villar. But they were all very strong. My father was one of them. They dragged the tree into the church because there wouldn’t have been room for everybody in the little schoolhouse. We all helped to decorate it with gold and silver nuts, and we hung apples and oranges everywhere on its branches. But the beautiful part were the candles. There were hundreds of them in blue, green, red, white and yellow. If you could only have seen how beautiful it was, Lisita, when the candles were lit, especially when they crowned the top of the tree with a lovely white angel. We sang the wonderful Christmas hymns. Then the pastor gave us a fine talk about the Savior. At the close, each of us children was given an apple, an orange, a little bag of sweets, and a beautiful little book.”

“Oh,” said I, “how happy I should be if Father would let us go to see it all. It must be a beautiful country!”

“It is the most beautiful in the world,” Paula assured me, her eyes sparkling.

“We, too, shall go and live there when we grow up; shall we not, Paula?”

“Yes, indeed, Lisita.”

“You know, Paula, Father always gives us a New Year’s present,” I said as I saw tears come into Paula’s eyes as she thought of her old home. “What would you like to have if you could choose?”

“There’s just one thing I want,” said Paula, “and that’s my little Bible.”

“But that wouldn’t be a present,” I said.

“No, but it would give me more pleasure than any present,” sighed Paula.

New Year’s Day dawned with splendid weather. It had snowed during the night and the whole countryside was dressed in white. The sparrows flew back and forth under our windows, seemingly remembering our custom to scatter crumbs for them on such an occasion. Of course, we soon satisfied their hunger.

In the dining room a huge fire burned, and Teresa with Rosa’s help prepared the New Year’s breakfast. Paula helped Catalina to dress, for Catalina, contrary to her custom, decided to breakfast with us, although against Teresa’s advice, for she feared such early rising would tire her too much for the rest of the day.

“Yes, but I wish to be on hand when Father distributes his New Year gifts,” our invalid said. So Teresa had to yield.

Our father was late in coming so Paula ran to tell him that breakfast was ready, and soon back she came with her hand in his, with that affecting grace that was so habitual to her.

When he had received our “Happy New Years” Father asked us if we wanted the presents before or after breakfast.

“Before! Before!” we all cried.

“Very well,” he said, “I have tried to satisfy everybody’s taste, so I trust everybody will be contented. Here, Paula, this little package is for you. Catalina assured me that this would give you more pleasure than anything else.”

Paula took the package and turned it over and over.

“It is a book,” she said in a voice that was none too steady.

“Do you think so?” said Catalina with a smile. “In that case hurry up, and show us.”

“Hurry up,” cried Louis, handing her his jack-knife. “Cut the string and open the package. We want to see what it is.”

She obeyed, a bit confused to see all eyes fixed upon her. Inside she found a little black book with a much-used cover.

She raised her eyes in gratitude to Father and tried to thank him, but could not find a word to say. Eagerly her fingers turned the precious pages. Suddenly out fell a five-franc-piece.

“There, there,” said my father, as she tried to express her thanks, “I am more than satisfied, if I have made you happy.”

“Happy!” said Paula, “I am more than happy!” She took her beloved Book, and as she turned its pages she found still other treasures—a few faded flowers which to my mind appeared to have no value whatsoever, and yet I could see that they seemed to call up once more the precious memories of her past life in that far-off Waldensian Valley.

“Dear Uncle,” said Paula, “Did you read the Book?”

“Yes, I read part of it, but if I have returned it to you today, it is not because I have finished reading it, nor is it because Catalina has begged me to return it to you. It is because you have obliged me to read another book.”

“I, Uncle? What book can that be?”

“Yes, it may seem strange to you, but you see, you have lived among us in such a way that I am to confess that I wish that my three daughters would imitate your manner of living. You have made me comprehend the love that your Bible speaks of, and of which Christ gave us an example, and which He apparently has put into your life, and so I give back your Bible to you with all my heart.”

One can imagine our feelings as we listened to this strange discourse from the lips of him who only a short time before had been so opposed to such things!

“And then, Paula, I have something more to say,” said my father. “Do you remember the day when I hit you on the head with your Bible as I took it away from you? I wish to say that I am sorry beyond expression for what I did that day—and now have you pardoned me, little daughter?”

For reply Paula took my father’s hands in hers, then in a flood of generosity and forgetfulness of self she gave her Bible back to him, simply saying, “I give it back to you, dearest uncle!”

“You give it back to me!” said my father, stupefied, “You give me back the Bible you loved so much!”

“Yes,” answered Paula, “because Teresa has promised to give me another.”

“But do you mean to tell me that you would care for a new Bible as much as this one?”

“Oh, no,” she said, “Father gave me that one, and it’s full of his markings, and it was in that Bible that I learned to love the Lord Jesus.”

“And then—?”

“Well, it’s because it is the most precious thing that I have in all the world that I give it to you. Because you see I love you so, and I would wish… Oh, how I do wish that you could learn to know Him, too.”

“My poor dear child,” said my father, “I cannot accept your sacrifice, but I shall always remember your thought of me; and in the meantime, if you like, we can go and buy another Bible like yours that I, too, may read it. How will that do?”

At this Paula clapped her hands in delight, as she said, “Indeed, that will be wonderful!”