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Paula the Waldensian | Eva Lecomte

Paula’s Treasures

Naturally, on awakening the next morning after Paula’s arrival, it was “Paula, Paula, Paula,” that occupied my every thought. I found she was still sleeping. How I did wish to wake her up! But Teresa had cautioned me to let her sleep as long as she wished on account of her long journey of the day before. So I simply half-opened the curtains of her bed and closed the window to warm up the room.

I had no idea what hour it was. Teresa had the watch under her pillow, and I could never tell the time by the sun, like Louis and Rosa, but I could tell it was very early, for almost every door and window of the red houses across the street were still closed. Once in a while, I saw a factory hand passing with his lunch under his arm, on his way to work. Among these, I noticed one whom we called the “Breton,” a terrific drunkard of whom I was greatly afraid; but, strange to say, this morning he went on his way with a firm, straight step, behaving himself quite like an ordinary person.

The sky was clear and very, very blue, without a single cloud. It had rained the night before, for on all the trees and bushes thousands of water-drops glistened like diamonds in the light of the newly risen sun.

Dozens of little birds were singing their morning songs in the great linden trees on the avenue, and the scent of the flowers from the laborers’ little gardens over the way, floated in through the window, and what a multitude they were!—roses, lilies, geraniums, pansies and forget-me-nots. I could not see our own garden from our bedroom window, but I knew that there also there would be flowers in profusion, thanks to faithful Teresa’s unceasing care. Here also hung that delight of my life—the swing which my father had placed under the apple tree one happy day five years ago. Oh, how Paula would love it, and how happy she would be among us! Again I took a peep between the curtains; but still she slept. Would she never wake up? Now I had a chance to observe her more closely. That beautiful face, just a bit serious, buried in the white pillow, on which were signs of moisture, betraying the fact that tears had been mixed with her slumbers.

It was long after we finished breakfast, and our father had gone to his work, that she finally awoke. But now, all her sadness had disappeared, and not a sign of a tear remained. She ate her breakfast with great gusto, not however without again performing that strange custom of putting her hands together, and repeating the prayer which our astonished ears had heard the night before.

Teresa searched among my sister’s clothes for something a little more modern with which to clothe our little country visitor. Meanwhile Paula chatted happily to us, telling us quite a little of her life in that far-off Waldensian valley. In the winter she and her father had lived in the stable in the midst of the cows, goats, sheep, rabbits, etc. It was the heat from the bodies of these animals that kept them quite warm; and at the same time saved the price of the fuel which would otherwise have been necessary if they had stayed during the day in the dwelling-house. Sometimes, she told us, the poor from the village would come to their stable, bringing their children with them for this same purpose of getting warm without any expenditure for fuel. Then, what happiness and what games they had together, in that little space in the stable between the animals!

Oh, yes, she went to the school, she said—the little school whose teacher was her own father, who every afternoon gathered the children together in that self-same stable. In the evening, the neighbors would bring each one his own little stool, crowding into every unoccupied space that could be found in the stable; the women spinning, the men reading in turn from the Bible by the light of a tallow candle. Meanwhile the babies were put to sleep in the straw above the sheep-fold, until the time came to disperse for the night. Paula, being a great girl of ten years old, always tried desperately to keep awake along with the older folks. Toward the close of the evening, her father would say, “Now, my friends, let us meet before the Lord.” Then the needles would be put away, the hymn-books would be taken out, and often they would sing far into the night. Then, after earnest prayers by several of the neighbors, the long winter meeting would break up.

Of course, Paula preferred the summer, she said, when she ran barefoot through the flower-covered fields or when she accompanied her father as they gathered the wheat. Then at other times she had to take her turn caring for the flocks of sheep and goats, and see that the lambs and little kids did not stray too far away. She never tired of watching these happy little creatures with their thousand antics as they jumped over the rocks.

In the summer, how happy she was in those vast green Alpine fields, how magnificent that pure air, and that bluest of all blue skies! And in the autumn!—What a beautiful season was that, with the nut gathering and the bringing in of the apples and the grapes. Then she told us how our Uncle John would take the honey from the hives, that golden honey with its heavenly taste.

As she spoke, Paula with her lovely, animated face, appeared to live again in her happy past, quite forgetful that she was now far away from her beloved, sunny land of the Alps, where that dear father slept on the hillside, nevermore to return.

I, of course, had been in the habit of hearing our mother speak of her home in the Alps with nothing but sighs and tears. It astonished me now to hear this young creature so full of life and vigor and happiness speak of her old life in Waldensia. I had been preparing myself to console her and endeavor to make her happy and forget her past life of poverty. But now it was quite the contrary. Here was Paula scattering happiness and love all around her, entertaining us and making us laugh at her wonderful stories.

Teresa came and went from one room to another opening boxes, finding here a dress that Catalina could not wear any more, there an apron that had grown too short for Rosa, and here again a pair of small shoes that would no doubt fit our country cousin, with a black ribbon or two that had formerly served us in our time of mourning when mamma died. From her bed in the other room, Catalina listened, calling me at times to re-tell some of the conversation which she had missed, and Rosa wrote a letter to Louis to tell him in detail all about Paula’s arrival.

Of course, we were all in high good humor, but I believe I was the happiest of all, for I certainly loved this newly-arrived cousin of mine, and found her a thousand times finer than I had even imagined.

I said to her once without thinking, “Paula, were you very sorry when you lost your father?” Teresa looked at me threateningly, but it was too late! Paula had already heard me and her eyes filled with tears. I would have given a good deal if I could have recalled my thoughtless words. “Father is in heaven,” said this valiant, young daughter of his. “He suffered much before he died, but now he is happy indeed! One day I shall go and be with him there.”

Never had I heard such an astonishing statement. Suddenly Teresa exclaimed, her voice shaking with emotion, “Surely, thou art a daughter of the good God and our very beloved Paula!”

The three days that followed Paula’s arrival were very happy ones for me. I greatly wanted to take her to school with me, but my father thought that for a while she would be better in the house, where she could accustom herself to her new life and be with poor Catalina whose strength diminished day by day.

In the morning, and at dinnertime, and after school, and in the evening, we were always together. On my return from school, we took tea together out of doors. When I had finished my homework, we would dig together in my portion of the garden, and then, as the summer days were long ones, Teresa would let us play outside until bedtime.

Of course, I showed Paula all our toys and dolls and the wonderful illustrated books that had been given me from time to time by relatives and friends. Paula was in ecstasies in this new world of books that opened before her. She touched my dolls one by one, looking at them with awe, examining their clothes, passing and repassing her fingers through their hair and exclaimed, “Oh, how beautiful! Never have I seen such things before!” Paula in her turn, showed us her treasures. They were not very numerous, but we could see our country cousin esteemed them very highly. With a trembling hand she untied a red-and-blue pocket-handkerchief, and without a word placed on the table a portrait, a little black-covered book, and some faded flowers. I took up the portrait. It was that of a young man with smiling eyes, quite similar to those of Paula, and with that same kindness and sweetness in his face, so that it was not difficult to recognize who he might be. “It’s my father,” said Paula quite simply.

I wished at that moment I could have said something to comfort her, but I could not find a word to say. Sobbing, I embraced her, and I felt her hot tears mingling with mine.

“Don’t let us cry any more,” she said presently. “My father has gone to heaven and my mother also. They are there with the Lord. Some day we shall go and join them, and we shall be with them there forever; shall we not, Lisita?”

“Yes,” I said, somewhat troubled.

“See my flowers,” she said. “I picked them near our house in the morning just before leaving. Do you not see? Here are forget-me-nots, pansies and daisies. Poor little things! It is hard to recognize them, but I shall keep them always, and when I return to Villar, I will carry them with me.”

“But you will never return there,” I cried, “you are to stay with us always. I never want you to leave us.”

“Well, don’t worry about that, Lisita. When we grow up, you will go with me to my old home. Uncle Peter and the man that rented the farm from Father, promised me never to leave the place until I grew up and returned. So I made them a solemn promise that I would come back and take over the farm some day. Perhaps the cows and the goats and the rabbits will all be different when I go back. If you only knew how I cried when I kissed them all on coming away. They all know me so well. I wonder if they still remember me.”

With a sigh, Paula put her flowers back carefully in the handkerchief, and then passed over the little black book to me. “This is my Bible,” she said. “It was my father’s for years, and he gave it to me on the day he died. See, he has written my name here on the first page.”

I was hardly able to decipher the shaky signature of our Uncle John, but finally made out the following,

A remembrance from her dying father.”

It was an old book with many loosened leaves. On each page were many underlined passages, some marked with pencil, others with ink, with small neat comments in the margins.

“This is my most precious treasure,” said Paula. “Father had it in his hands as he breathed his last. I promised him to read from it every day of my life, asking the Lord’s help to understand what I read. Although Papa is no longer here, still I obey him. I try to remember all that he told me. He was a wonderful man, this dear father of mine, and how he did love the Lord! My one desire is to be like him.”

“Yes, but you are only a girl yet,” I said to her.

“That’s true, Lisita, naturally I know that, but father used to say to me, ‘You’re not too small to serve the Lord, Paula!’ I read the Bible with him many times, and when we didn’t have time to read it in the house, we took it to the fields with us and read it as we rested. Then as I watched the cows and sheep, I read the Book alone. And now you and I can read it together; can we not, Lisita? And I know the Lord will help us to make everybody else happy around us. I’ve never had a sister, and now that you say you wish to be my sister, my prayers are answered!”

Then after a pause, she said, “Why don’t you answer me, Lisita?” And she laid her head on my shoulder and fixed her great eyes upon me.

How could I answer her! I had a great desire to tell her of the true situation. We all of us wished to be as good as possible, if that should please her, but we would never be permitted to read the Bible. I knew father would never consent to that. Yet how could I tell her that things in our house were not as they were in hers—in that God was never mentioned! Then I remembered a long discussion our old servant had had that very morning with my sisters on this subject, and Teresa had ended the matter by saying, “She’s only a little girl, anyway, and she’ll soon become accustomed to do as we do. Besides, your father will remember how she has been brought up, and he has too good a heart to make the poor child unhappy. Of course, in the end the thing will finally adjust itself. Poor little thing! How she would suffer if we should bluntly tell her the truth that we live here in this house like a bunch of savages.”

As I searched my poor brain for a reply, Teresa without knowing it, came to my help by calling me into the kitchen. Upon any other occasion, I would have simply answered, without moving, “What do you want?” But now I was only too glad to obey her immediately and so put an end to a difficult situation.

“I’m going to town,” she said, as she put on a clean apron. “Perhaps you and Paula would like to come along.”

“What a lark!” I cried, as I ran out to tell the glad news to Paula, and two minutes later we were ready.

Teresa looked us over from head to foot, reminding us that the strings of our shoes hadn’t even been tied, that our faces and hands showed signs of an all-too-hasty toilet, to say nothing of a lack of a comb in our hair. Finally, however, we were on the road to town, happy to find ourselves in the cool shade of the long avenue of linden trees that stretched away in the distance. What a joy it was to have at my side this new, wonderful companion, to whom I would be able to open the mysteries of the great shops and public buildings—marvelous things which this simple country girl had never seen before in all her life. What could be greater happiness for any girl of my age!