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Paula the Waldensian | Eva Lecomte

Catalina’s Illness

Teresa had not been mistaken. Catalina became so critically ill during the following week, that my father lost all hope of her recovery. Not being able to be with her during the day, he watched at her bedside during the greater part of the night, and if it had not been for Teresa, who compelled him to go and take some rest, he would have, undoubtedly, suffered a collapse himself. How long those days appeared to be in spite of the happy companionship that I had found with my dear cousin Paula! My father hardly noticed us, absorbed as he was with the fear that filled his heart, and Teresa was occupied with so many tasks that she had no time for us either.

Rosa had to leave school in order to help nurse the sick one, and Paula also was required to stay home until the afternoon session. As for me, I was packed off to school in the morning, carrying my lunch in a little basket, fearing each night as I came back to the house that I would receive bad news as to Catalina. My! What grand resolutions for the future I made during those sad days—to try to love my poor, sick sister, and to treat her better than I had done, should she recover.

One afternoon, I was surprised to find my father at home. It was only about five o’clock and he generally did not return from work until eight. He seemed so sad and depressed that I dared not embrace him as was our custom. Teresa crossed the dining-room and gave me her usual warning. “Don’t make any noise, Lisita. Go and sit down and be quiet”

“Teresa,” said my father in a low voice, “do you think Catalina would be able to see the children?”

“Why do you ask that, sir?” she said.

“I would like them to see her that she may embrace them for the last time. You know what the doctor said.”

“Oh, those doctors!” said Teresa in a scornful tone. “The doctors don’t know what they’re talking about. Don’t lose hope, sir. I know that Catalina may not live to be very old, but if God wills her to live, she will do so in spite of the doctors.”

“Yes, but you know how weak she is. She never will be able to survive so many complications. And yet, how can I bear such affliction? She reminds me so much of her mother, the same voice, the same blue eyes, and even her identical way of smiling. And now to follow this child to the cemetery and return to the house where she will never be any more. Oh, what shall I do! What shall I do!”

“Why don’t you consult the Great Physician, sir?”

“What do you mean by ‘the Great Physician’?”

“I mean the Lord Jesus. Deliver Catalina into His hands. When He walked this earth, all the sick ones were brought to Him and He healed them all.”

“But He’s no longer on the earth.”

“No; but His power is the same today as it was then.”

“Teresa, do you pray nowadays?”

“Yes, sir, I do.”

“When did you begin to pray?”

“From the time that Paula entered the house, sir.”

“I suspected that.”

“Now, please don’t go and rebuke her, sir. If you only knew how she loves you, and how she prays for you and Catalina. Oh, sir, how many times she has made me blush for shame.”

“How so, my good Teresa?”

“That’s a fact, sir. I used to think to myself, ‘You’re a pretty good woman, you have suffered much in your life, you work hard, you don’t do any harm to anybody, surely you will go to heaven.’ But when I saw Paula and the reality of her religion, and how she loved God—oh, then, sir, I comprehended for the first time in my life that I was a sinner worthy of hell, and I prayed to God that He would pardon me.”

“And—did He do it?”

“The Savior assures us, sir, that ‘him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.’* (John 6:37) So I dare to believe that He has pardoned me.” Teresa was pale with emotion. It was the first time that she had confessed the Lord before men, and it cost her a good deal to do so to my father.

He was apparently too depressed to be angry. After a moment of silence he said, “Where is Paula?”

“I sent her to the drug store, sir, to get certain medicines that the doctor ordered.”

“When she returns, send her to Catalina’s room. I shall remain there until, until—” My poor father could not conclude the sentence.

Then turning to me, “When Paula returns I wish you to come in to Catalina’s room also, Lisita.”

“Yes, Father,” I answered him in a low voice.

A quarter of an hour later Paula returned. Never shall I forget the anguish and terror that I experienced when Teresa, warning us to be quiet, led the way to the bedside of my dying sister.

Catalina did not appear to notice our entrance. Her eyes were closed, and her face so pale that I believed her already dead, but my father made signs to us to draw a little nearer and putting his hand over the forehead of my poor sister, he called to her gently, in a voice that betrayed great anguish.

“Catalina, Lisita and Paula have come to visit you. Would you not like to embrace them?”

“Lisita… Paula…” I heard Catalina murmur in a far-away voice. “Ah, yes, I remember. Help me up, Father.” My father lifted the poor thin body of his daughter. In spite of all I could do, I could not keep from crying, thinking that it would be the last time that I would embrace my big sister, whom I had loved so little. She looked at us for a long while, and then said calmly, “Have you two come to say good-bye to me?”

“No, no,” said my father; “we hope that…”

“No, father, I’m dying. I know that well. It is useless to keep it from me. Think of it, only eighteen years old, and yet I’ve been of no use to anybody, and nobody’s going to miss me very much.”

“Catalina,” exclaimed my father, “do not speak so. You hurt me talking that way, and you make Lisita and Paula cry.”

“Are you really crying, Lisita?” And Catalina turned her feverish eyes toward me. “How strange! I have not been a very good sister to you, and I always thought you didn’t care for me.”

“Oh, Catalina,” I exclaimed, kneeling beside the bed, “please don’t die. I do love you so. I promise to come and care for you every day and I’ll never make another noise while you are sick. I will be always good to you, indeed—even when you’re bad-humored. Please don’t die.” And then I sobbed with such violence that my father, fearing that such conduct would cut even shorter that parting life upon the bed, asked Teresa to take me away.

But Catalina said, “Let her alone, Father. It really does me good to see her cry. I never dreamed that Lisita had any heart at all. But I see now that it has been all my fault. If I had only been a bit better-tempered with her, she would have shown me a little more affection. Rosa, give me a little water, please.” And Rosa placed a teaspoonful of water between the lips of our poor sister.

“Are you quite bad, my daughter?” asked my father.

For some minutes, Catalina could not reply, but finally she said, “Lisita, don’t cry any more, please. Now, listen.”

I tried to calm myself.

“We need to ask each other’s pardon, my poor little sister,” she said. “Now kiss me. Tell me that you forgive me.”

“Oh, yes, indeed, I do forgive you,” I answered, “from the bottom of my heart. It is I who have been wicked, whereas you have been so very, very sick, while I enjoy such good health.”

“Yes, that’s true,” said Catalina, “but I’m older, and I should have shown you a better example. I had always thought of myself and now—it’s too late to change! Come, dear Lisita, come and kiss me once more.”

I could have wished to have stayed there on my knees for hours and hide my head with shame and tears, but I didn’t dare refuse to show this last sign of affection for Catalina. So I laid my hot cheek against that of my sister, trying to bid her good-bye, and her tears mingled with mine.

When Paula’s turn came, Catalina was so exhausted that she could hardly say a word. But finally, she said, “You will take my place at Father’s side, Paula. Father, I’m dying. Paula will take my place, and I know she will be a better daughter that I could have ever been.”

Her strength was going rapidly and we could hardly hear her words. And now my father softly put her back on the pillows and motioned us to retire.

Exhausted by remorse and grief, I threw myself on my bed and continued crying until at last I fell into a heavy sleep.

During the week that followed, Catalina hovered between life and death, and good old Dr. Lebon came and went two or three times a day. Teresa never went to bed, but took short catnaps in her chair at times, as best she could, and my father made very rare and short visits to his office, bringing a good part of his work home with him.

Rosa now replaced Teresa, either in the kitchen or at the bedside of the invalid, as the case might be. And I continued at school where, thanks to the fears that filled my heart, I was a model of good conduct.

Paula had quickly learned to make herself useful. She lacked experience in a house like ours, but her willingness and cheerfulness more than made up for the clumsiness of her hands as she would say to Teresa, “Let me do that, dear Teresa; you are so tired, and you have so much work now.” Teresa, accustomed as she was to perform everything herself, hesitated a little at first. But Paula would look at her in such a beseeching way that she generally yielded to her.

From the time that Catalina fell ill, Rosa had to make all the purchases in town, and this was not a small thing, for the distance from the old convent to the city was considerable. At times Paula was allowed to go with her. “Why don’t you let me go alone to the city?” Paula said to her. “If you did not have to go out, you could help Teresa so much more in caring for Catalina.”

“That’s true; but you couldn’t go alone to the city. You’d get lost!”

“No, no, never fear such a thing. Let me go, and I’ll have not a bit of trouble finding my way back.” And Rosa, like Teresa, at last yielded to her pleading.

“How is Catalina now?” was my first question on returning from school.

“Always the same,” Paula would say.

“Do you think, Paula, she’ll ever get well?”

“That I don’t know, Lisita. But I believe she will. Teresa prays for her, and so do I. God is able to heal all the sick people. You know that, don’t you, Lisita?”

And then, as she thought of the dear sick one that the Lord had not healed, whose body was lying in the faraway Waldensian valley she added, “I know the Lord did not heal my father, but then, you know, he was prepared to go.”

“What do you mean ‘prepared’?” I said, a bit puzzled.

“Oh, I mean to say that my father had given his heart to the Lord Jesus, and so he was ready to go to heaven.”

“I suppose it is very difficult to prepare one’s self for heaven,” I said guardedly.

“Oh, no,” said Paula. “If we ask the Lord Jesus to give us a new heart, He always does so.”

“What do you think,” I said, “has Catalina received a new heart?”

“I don’t know,” and Paula hesitated, “but I don’t think so. She torments herself so, and seems so afraid to die.”

“Oh, Paula, how I wish she would get well! Before she became so ill, I didn’t care for her a bit, and I believe she didn’t care for me either. But after having said goodbye to her that afternoon, I certainly do love her. Poor Catalina! In the middle of the school session, many times it comes to me, ‘Suppose that Catalina should die today!’ Then I do not seem to be able to pay any more attention to the lessons. It seems as if Catalina was there, dead in her bed, and I hardly dare to come home. If I had not been so wicked to her before she became so ill, I know I would not feel so.”

“Now listen, Lisita! This is what you ought to do. You ought to ask the Lord Jesus to heal Catalina.”

“He’d never do it for me,” I said.

“And why not?” asked Paula.

“Because I’m sure God doesn’t hear the prayers of wicked people.”

For a while Paula did not answer me. I saw that she was thinking about what I had just said. Suddenly, a ray of happiness illumined the dear face with its great dark eyes, as she exclaimed, “Yes, He does hear wicked people.”

“How do you know that?” I said.

“Because when Jesus Christ hung on the cross, one of the robbers asked Him to remember him when He came into His kingdom, and the Lord promised to do so.”

“Well, then,” I murmured, “perhaps the Lord might hear me also.”

Paula turned about and faced me. “But, my dear Lisita, you’re not wicked.”

“Most certainly I am,” said I.

“No, no, you’re not that bad, and if you wish to be my sister, you will love the Lord Jesus, and you love Him now with all your heart, do you not, Lisita! I don’t like to hear you say that you’re wicked, for you are a good girl, and I love you dearly, Lisita!”

I? I? Good!? I stared at my cousin. At any rate, I knew that that very night, for the first time in my life, I was going to pray to the good Lord before I slept. Teresa had come in to say good night and put out the light. I hadn’t the courage to get up and kneel beside the bed as Paula did, but I joined my hands in prayer and closed my eyes as she had done, and with my head buried in the pillow, I murmured, “Oh, my God, I’ve never asked anything of You, and I wouldn’t have dared to have said a word to You tonight if Paula had not said that You heard the prayers even of wicked penitent ones like me. My God, I ask You to heal my sister Catalina, and I ask it with all my heart. I haven’t been very good to her, and I’m very sorry, and I’m going to be better from now on. My God, please let her live, and if she gets well, I promise You now to do all my lessons faithfully for a whole week. And so I thank you ahead of time, amen.”

Two days later Catalina was out of danger! It was my father who told me the good news on my return from school. “Oh, how happy, how happy I am, father!” I cried as I danced for joy.

“No more than I am, my daughter,” he answered gravely.