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Paula the Waldensian | Eva Lecomte

Paula Arrives

For nearly a week I couldn’t think of another thing but the coming of Paula.

My father had gone to Paris. He would be there some days to arrange certain important matters of business in connection with his factory, and also to wait for the little orphan to be placed in his care by a lady who was journeying from Villar to Paris. In school I talked of nothing else. In fact, I talked about her all day and every day. I learned nothing, nor could I seem to do anything around the house.

One night, while dreaming, I jumped from the bed, crying, “Paula! Paula!” This awakened Teresa, and she made me take some nasty medicine, thinking I had fever. I made promises of reform. I wanted to be good, studious and patient, in order to be an example to Paula who would see my good qualities and would thus endeavor to imitate me. Nevertheless I became absolutely insufferable! My older sisters, without being quite so enthusiastic as I was, nevertheless spoke often of Paula. Catalina began to worry that Paula might suffer in our house, but she soon consoled herself by remembering that my father had promised to put her out to board, if it turned out that she could not get along amicably with us. As to Louis, he soon showed us that he was not at all interested in the arrival of his young cousin. If it had been a boy, it would have been different—but a girl!

Teresa spoke very little as to Paula, but I am persuaded that long before the arrival of our little orphan cousin, she had been given a large place in our old servant’s heart. She found a little white bed up in the attic which was placed in my room beside my own cot.

At last the great day arrived. It was a Wednesday, and of course I had to go to school as usual. We did not know at what hour my father would come from Paris with Paula, and so every moment I said to myself, “Perhaps they have arrived!” Result: my lessons went from bad to worse. But at last, at five in the afternoon, I reached the house breathless—only to find that Paula had not yet come. “They are not coming!” I cried impatiently, “I knew they wouldn’t be here!”

“Then why did you run so fast?” Teresa asked.

I said nothing, but soon Rosa also arrived, and after tea I put all my books in order, redressed my dolls, got rid of the ink on my hands with pumice stone, and in between each task, took a turn in the garden on the passing of any coach—but always with the same result! Would they ever arrive? Then came supper-time. Catalina had been up and dressed all day and would not hear of going to bed until Paula came. Our summer days are very long, but night had arrived, the lamps had been lighted, and we had resigned ourselves to wait without the consolation of seeing the road from the window. Then suddenly—oh, joy! We heard a faint sound of wheels in the distance; then clearer and clearer as they rattled over the pavement of the deserted street. Teresa had already arisen from her chair. I had a wild desire to run out in the dark to receive my young cousin for whom I had waited all these weeks, but something seemed to detain me. Then, while I waited, questioning myself as to what I would say to Paula, trying to remember all the many counsels of Teresa, our old servant staggered in from the yard with a great bag in each hand. Then our father entered with a young girl at his side dressed in black. Paula had come!

In anticipation I had fancied Paula as a pale, sad little girl with blue eyes full of tears. She would have golden hair, very smooth, cut off at the base of her ears, and would be dressed in black muslin, and wear a straw hat with a black ribbon tied under her chin. But here was a different Paula. She was large for her age and appeared quite strong. Her frank, open face, bronzed with the sun and air, showed health and intelligence. A black silk cap with a wide ribbon of the same color, failed to entirely hide a magnificent head of brown hair, gathered beneath her cap after the manner of the Waldensians. Her simple dress of black and gray stripes reached almost to her ankles, while an apron of fine cretonne came to her knees. A black shawl, whose points passed under her arms and were knotted behind, protected her shoulders, while a pair of great, thick shoes completed her attire. In spite of what to our mind was a certain quaint oddness in her dress, it could not hide Paula’s beauty. Her forehead was broad and intelligent, her large brown eyes were full of a certain sweetness, and a lovely smile played on her half-opened lips.

“Come,” said our father in an almost kindly voice for him; “Embrace your young cousin, and give her a hearty welcome.”

Rosa came forward, and I timidly did the same; but Paula, dropping father’s hand, rushed toward Rosa and then to me, kissing us both and laughing and crying at the same time. She seemed to forget her long voyage and her weariness as she repeated to each one of us in her melodious voice, “I know I shall love you all, and my Uncle Charles here. I already love him, and he has told me all your names. Let me see, this is Rosa,” and then turning to me, “You are Lisita. Oh, if you only knew how much I love you all!”

“Now go and greet your cousin Catalina,” said my father. “She is the sick one,” he added softly.

Paula drew near the big chair where the sick girl reclined. Catalina was smiling sadly at the young stranger. “Do you also love me a little?” asked my eldest sister.

With tenderness and infinite care Paula enveloped her in her strong arms. “I already love you with all my heart!” she said, laying her head against Catalina’s shoulder.

“Have you ever been sick, Paula?” she questioned her.

“No, but Papa was,” she said in a trembling tone.

At this moment Teresa arrived carrying in the final bag. “At last,” she said, embracing Paula. “Do you know who I am?” Then, seeing that Paula viewed her a bit strangely, she added, “I am only old Teresa. It was I who brought up your dear mother, and I thought I would have to do the same with you; but it looks to me as if you wouldn’t need very much of my care. You are so large and healthy, much bigger than Lisita here, and yet you probably are no older. How old are you, pray?”

“I am ten years old, madame.”

“Oh, don’t call me ‘madame.’ Call me Teresa, just as your mother did many years ago.”

And Teresa took the lamp and brought it close to Paula. “No, you hardly have any similiarity in your face, but your voice is like hers. Now, let me hug you once more, my treasure.” And Teresa pressed to her heart the motherless child.

“In my country they say I am like Papa. In fact, I have his portrait in the trunk and I will show it to you.”

“Show it to us now!” I shouted.

But Teresa interrupted me. “What a child you are, when poor Paula is so tired! Tomorrow will be time enough.”

The meal for the young traveler had been prepared on the end of the great table, where Teresa had placed buttered toast and jam, and soon she sallied from the kitchen with the rest of the food.

“There you are, Paula,” Teresa said, drawing her to the table; “Sit down and eat!”

“And the others?” said Paula, looking at us.

“Oh, we ate long ago,” said Rosa.

“I think we might eat a little bread and jam to accompany her,” I said. Then everybody laughed.

“I think Lisita is right for once,” said Teresa, always happy when she was able to give us a bit of pleasure; “and I think Paula will be a little more comfortable that way.”

“Now then, Paula, are you not hungry?” asked Teresa with her hand on the latch of the kitchen door.

“Yes, madame—that is, yes, Teresa.”

“Begin then! Lisita doesn’t need any urging. Do as she does, and I trust you will eat with a good appetite.”

Paula looked at us, one after the other, and then looked at Teresa as if she would say something. As Teresa remained, looking on in an astonished manner, Paula got down from her chair and stood in front of her now cooling cup of hot milk. She placed her hands together, closing her eyes, and bending her head a little, she said slowly and deliberately in a low voice, “The food which we receive, O Lord, may it be blessed, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Amen!”