When Louis returned at the end of the week, he was surprised to find Paula so happy and contented. He found her in the kitchen helping Teresa to dry the dishes. “One would think,” said he, “that you had been with us for many months instead of a few days.” Paula showed herself to be much more embarrassed in his presence than she had been with us. It may have been the school uniform that did it. But Louis, like the good-hearted lad that he was, did what he could to make her feel at home. Presently, out we went into the garden to play, not without an anxious look from Teresa, for she knew that when Louis came into any situation, he generally caused trouble. When, however, we returned with our aprons decorated with mud but still happy, the good old lady heaved a sigh of relief. The fact is, that when Louis played with us he always acted as he did with the boys at school. But no matter what happened, Paula seemed afraid of nothing. When it came to running races, Louis found to his great chagrin, that she could even beat him at this; and in the other games if she happened to fall and hurt herself, she’d rub an injured knee with a laugh or sucked a stubbed finger without further comment, and go on playing as if nothing had happened. But in spite of entering wholeheartedly into all our fun, it was easy to see that our servant had well named her, “The daughter of the good God!” She was always ready to step aside and let others take the first place, and to yield all her own rights; to recover a ball at whatever distance when a dispute arose as to, “Who should get it?” or to look for a lost kite, no matter how thick the brambles might be. No wonder Louis was quite content to have such an accommodating companion!
Then the moment arrived when we must go back to the house. That fatal time always seemed to arrive on the wings of the wind. Teresa seldom had any time to come and call us, but she relied on Louis, as he had a watch. Beside all that, we could clearly hear the hour strike in the great clock on Darnetal Church.
“Listen,” cried Paula, woefully, “it’s nine o’clock, and Teresa said we must go back to the house at nine.”
“Oh, shut up,” said Louis. He had just started a thrilling new game of jumping from a high wall. “I’ll tell you when it’s time to go home. Now are you ready? Hurry up, Paula, get the ladder. There it is, under the cherry tree!” Paula obediently ran and returned with the required ladder, and helped Louis put it in position, saying at the same time, “But Louis, you know well that Teresa told us that we must be in at nine o’clock.”
“Oh, yes, I heard it,” said Louis ill-humoredly.
“Well, then we must go!”
“Oh, not yet, five minutes more or less won’t make any difference.”
“No, five minutes won’t make any great difference, of course,” said Paula slowly, “and it certainly is lovely here, but Teresa ordered us in at nine o’clock. I’ll run and ask her if we cannot stay another fifteen minutes.”
“Certainly not,” sneered Louis. “Teresa would never give permission. Now, hurry up, you’re first on the wall, Paula.”
“No, I’m not going to stay. Teresa will be angry.”
“No, no, never fear. Besides, she’ll never know. I think she’s out.”
“Well, she’ll know when she returns. She’ll ask us what time we came in.”
“Oh, you needn’t worry about that,” and Louis took out his watch. “I can fix that matter easily.” We both looked over his shoulder at the watch, which by this time clearly pointed to five minutes after the hour. Suddenly, we saw the hands of the watch begin to turn backwards. “Now,” said Louis, “what time it is?”
“Half-past eight,” answered Paula, lifting astonished eyes to her cousin’s face.
“Well, if it’s half-past eight why do you look at me like that?”
“Because I don’t understand.”
“What do you mean by saying you don’t understand? It’s all quite simple. If Teresa is angry, I’ll tell her that we left the garden at nine o’clock; then I’ll show her my watch.”
“But,” cried Paula, quite upset, “that would be a lie!”
“Nonsense, you foolish youngster, that’s not a lie. We’ll go from here at the dot of nine, according to my watch, and that’s what I’ll tell Teresa in case she asks us. Of course, if she doesn’t ask us, we don’t have to say anything. Besides, I do it for you and Lisita, for if you were boys instead of girls, there would be no reason to return so early. Now, up with you. Yes, or no.”
“Not I,” said Paula, with a heightened color. Louis was furious.
“No, you say? Oh,” he laughed, “the wall’s too high.” Paula looked at the wall. It was certainly high, but he knew very well from past exploits that the height would not bother her.
“No,” she said, “I’m not afraid to jump. Over in Villar, when I had to tend the goats, many a time I have had to jump from far greater heights than that to keep them from straying into our neighbor’s pastures; but I tell you now, we promised Teresa to return at nine o’clock, and I’m not going to disobey her.”
Then it was that I joined in on the side of Louis. “If you’re always going to obey Teresa, you’ll never have a quiet moment.”
“Then are you, too, going to stay with Louis?” Paula asked sadly.
“Of course,” cried Louis, without giving me time to reply. “And now, go if you wish and leave us in peace. Get out of the way!”
Paula, who was seated on the lowest rung of the ladder, immediately stepped aside and soon Louis was on the wall.
“Now, it’s your turn,” he called to me. I followed my brother as Paula slowly moved away up the garden walk.
“I’m going back with Paula,” I said to Louis. From the top of the wall, I saw her turn her head for one last look.
“Oh, let her go!” said Louis. “She can find her own way. I’m afraid the little fool is going to become impossible. Now, do as I do. But be sure and don’t break your nose, for Teresa will blame me.”
“You jump first,” I said.
“Getting afraid, are you? All right, see me jump. One, two, three!” and down he went, in the middle of a pansy bed, Teresa’s especial pride and the object of her particular care.
“Oh, oh,” I cried, viewing the ruin that Louis had made. “Now, won’t Teresa be angry indeed!”
“Well, why should I care?” said Louis. “Why did she have to put flowers alongside of a perfectly good wall like this? Now, hurry up and jump. We’ll fix it up and water it, and she’ll know nothing about what happened.”
“Oh, Louis, I’m afraid!” Certainly, the distance to the ground seemed enormous!
“What are you afraid of? I’ll catch you if you fall. Don’t be a fraidy cat!” Just at that moment I would have done anything rather than jump.
“I’m coming down by the ladder.”
“No, you’ll do no such thing! Now, come on; don’t be a coward!”
Just at this moment we heard a voice calling, “Louis! Lisita!”
Louis turned to see Paula calling us from the bottom of the garden.
“And now what do you want?” cried Louis. “I thought you had gone home.”
I profited by this diversion to come rapidly down the ladder.
“I was almost at the house,” answered Paula, coming nearer, “but I didn’t go in because I didn’t want to meet Teresa.”
“Because I didn’t know what to say to her, if she should ask me where you two were.”
“Well, wouldn’t you have told her the truth?”
“Of course, I would have had to tell her. That’s why I’ve come back to look for you. I’ve run all the way. Oh, please, come now; won’t you?”
My brother seemed to hesitate.
“You know I hated to disobey,” added Paula, with tears in her eyes, “and at the same time, I don’t like to be a tattletale. Won’t you please come home now with me?”
Louis was a good-hearted lad in spite of his shortcomings. Therefore, seeing his young cousin beginning to cry, he said, “All right, let’s go. Anyway, I can’t play the way I want, especially with a pair of youngsters like you two. But, look here, Paula, you forgot the ladder. Take it away now, if you want us to play up to all your nonsense.”
Paula, grabbing the ladder, simply said, “Oh, thank you so much,” as she dried her tears. I went meanwhile and filled the watering-pot while Louis tried to restore the crushed pansies as best he could.
“There you are,” said Louis finally, “Teresa will never know.” And off we all three raced for the house.
“And so you are back already,” remarked Teresa as we invaded the kitchen.
“Back already!” said Louis. “It’s more than a quarter after nine, but if it hadn’t been for the country cousin here, we’d have been a whole lot later.”