The Gate of the Giant Scissors by Annie Fellows Johnston
Chapter I. In the Pear-Tree.
Joyce was crying, up in old Monsieur Greville's tallest pear-tree. She had gone down to the farthest corner of the garden, out of sight of the house, for she did not want any one to know that she was miserable enough to cry.
She was tired of the garden with the high stone wall around it, that made her feel like a prisoner; she was tired of French verbs and foreign faces; she was tired of France, and so homesick for her mother and Jack and Holland and the baby, that she couldn't help crying. No wonder, for she was only twelve years old, and she had never been out of the little Western village where she was born, until the day she started abroad with her Cousin Kate.
Now she sat perched up on a limb in a dismal bunch, her chin in her hands and her elbows on her knees. It was a gray afternoon in November; the air was frosty, although the laurel-bushes in the garden were all in bloom.
"I s'pect there is snow on the ground at home," thought Joyce, "and there's a big, cheerful fire in the sitting-room grate.
"Holland and the baby are shelling corn, and Mary is popping it. Dear me! I can smell it just as plain! Jack will be coming in from the post-office pretty soon, and maybe he'll have one of my letters. Mother will read it out loud, and there they'll all be, thinking that I am having such a fine time; that it is such a grand thing for me to be abroad studying, and having dinner served at night in so many courses, and all that sort of thing. They don't know that I am sitting up here in this pear-tree, lonesome enough to die. Oh, if I could only go back home and see them for even five minutes," she sobbed, "but I can't! I can't! There's a whole wide ocean between us!"
She shut her eyes, and leaned back against the tree as that desolate feeling of homesickness settled over her like a great miserable ache. Then she found that shutting her eyes, and thinking very hard about the little brown house at home, seemed to bring it into plain sight. It was like opening a book, and seeing picture after picture as she turned the pages.
There they were in the kitchen, washing dishes, she and Mary; and Mary was standing on a soap-box to make her tall enough to handle the dishes easily. How her funny little braid of yellow hair bobbed up and down as she worked, and how her dear little freckled face beamed, as they told stories to each other to make the work seem easier.
Mary's stories all began the same way: "If I had a witch with a wand, this is what we would do." The witch with a wand had come to Joyce in the shape of Cousin Kate Ware, and that coming was one of the pictures that Joyce could see now, as she thought about it with her eyes closed.
There was Holland swinging on the gate, waiting for her to come home from school, and trying to tell her by excited gestures, long before she was within speaking distance, that some one was in the parlor. The baby had on his best plaid kilt and new tie, and the tired little mother was sitting talking in the parlor, an unusual thing for her. Joyce could see herself going up the path, swinging her sun-bonnet by the strings and taking hurried little bites of a big June apple in order to finish it before going into the house. Now she was sitting on the sofa beside Cousin Kate, feeling very awkward and shy with her little brown fingers clasped in this stranger's soft white hand. She had heard that Cousin Kate was a very rich old maid, who had spent years abroad, studying music and languages, and she had expected to see a stout, homely woman with bushy eyebrows, like Miss Teckla Schaum, who played the church organ, and taught German in the High School.
But Cousin Kate was altogether unlike Miss Teckla. She was tall and slender, she was young-looking and pretty, and there was a stylish air about her, from the waves of her soft golden brown hair to the bottom of her tailor-made gown, that was not often seen in this little Western village.
Joyce saw herself glancing admiringly at Cousin Kate, and then pulling down her dress as far as possible, painfully conscious that her shoes were untied, and white with dust. The next picture was several days later. She and Jack were playing mumble-peg outside under the window by the lilac-bushes, and the little mother was just inside the door, bending over a pile of photographs that Cousin Kate had dropped in her lap. Cousin Kate was saying, "This beautiful old French villa is where I expect to spend the winter, Aunt Emily. These are views of Tours, the town that lies across the river Loire from it, and these are some of the chateaux near by that I intend to visit. They say the purest French in the world is spoken there. I have prevailed on one of the dearest old ladies that ever lived to give me rooms with her. She and her husband live all alone in this big country place, so I shall have to provide against loneliness by taking my company with me. Will you let me have Joyce for a year?"
Jack and she stopped playing in sheer astonishment, while Cousin Kate went on to explain how many advantages she could give the little girl to whom she had taken such a strong fancy.
Looking through the lilac-bushes, Joyce could see her mother wipe her eyes and say, "It seems like pure providence, Kate, and I can't stand in the child's way. She'll have to support herself soon, and ought to be prepared for it; but she's the oldest of the five, you know, and she has been like my right hand ever since her father died. There'll not be a minute while she is gone, that I shall not miss her and wish her back. She's the life and sunshine of the whole home."
Then Joyce could see the little brown house turned all topsy-turvy in the whirl of preparation that followed, and the next thing, she was standing on the platform at the station, with her new steamer trunk beside her. Half the town was there to bid her good-by. In the excitement of finding herself a person of such importance she forgot how much she was leaving behind her, until looking up, she saw a tender, wistful smile on her mother's face, sadder than any tears.
Luckily the locomotive whistled just then, and the novelty of getting aboard a train for the first time, helped her to be brave at the parting. She stood on the rear platform of the last car, waving her handkerchief to the group at the station as long as it was in sight, so that the last glimpse her mother should have of her, was with her bright little face all ashine.
All these pictures passed so rapidly through Joyce's mind, that she had retraced the experiences of the last three months in as many minutes. Then, somehow, she felt better. The tears had washed away the ache in her throat. She wiped her eyes and climbed liked a squirrel to the highest limb that could bear her weight.
This was not the first time that the old pear-tree had been shaken by Joyce's grief, and it knew that her spells of homesickness always ended in this way. There she sat, swinging her plump legs back and forth, her long light hair blowing over the shoulders of her blue jacket, and her saucy little mouth puckered into a soft whistle. She could see over the high wall now. The sun was going down behind the tall Lombardy poplars that lined the road, and in a distant field two peasants still at work reminded her of the picture of "The Angelus." They seemed like acquaintances on account of the resemblance, for there was a copy of the picture in her little bedroom at home.
All around her stretched quiet fields, sloping down to the ancient village of St. Symphorien and the river Loire. Just across the river, so near that she could hear the ringing of the cathedral bell, lay the famous old town of Tours. There was something in these country sights and sounds that soothed her with their homely cheerfulness. The crowing of a rooster and the barking of a dog fell on her ear like familiar music.
"It's a comfort to hear something speak English," she sighed, "even if it's nothing but a chicken. I do wish that Cousin Kate wouldn't be so particular about my using French all day long. The one little half-hour at bedtime when she allows me to speak English isn't a drop in the bucket. It's a mercy that I had studied French some before I came, or I would have a lonesome time. I wouldn't be able to ever talk at all."
It was getting cold up in the pear-tree. Joyce shivered and stepped down to the limb below, but paused in her descent to watch a peddler going down the road with a pack on his back.
"Oh, he is stopping at the gate with the big scissors!" she cried, so interested that she spoke aloud. "I must wait to see if it opens."
There was something mysterious about that gate across the road. Like Monsieur Greville's, it was plain and solid, reaching as high as the wall. Only the lime-trees and the second story windows of the house could be seen above it. On the top it bore an iron medallion, on which was fastened a huge pair of scissors. There was a smaller pair on each gable of the house, also.
During the three months that Joyce had been in Monsieur Greville's home, she had watched every day to see it open; but if any one ever entered or left the place, it was certainly by some other way than this queer gate.
What lay beyond it, no one could tell. She had questioned Gabriel the coachman, and Berthe the maid, in vain. Madame Greville said that she remembered having heard, when a child, that the man who built it was named Ciseaux, and that was why the symbol of this name was hung over the gate and on the gables. He had been regarded as half crazy by his neighbors. The place was still owned by a descendant of his, who had gone to Algiers, and left it in charge of two servants.
The peddler rang the bell of the gate several times, but failing to arouse any one, shouldered his pack and went off grumbling. Then Joyce climbed down and walked slowly up the gravelled path to the house. Cousin Kate had just come back from Tours in the pony cart, and was waiting in the door to see if Gabriel had all the bundles that she had brought out with her.
Joyce followed her admiringly into the house. She wished that she could grow up to look exactly like Cousin Kate, and wondered if she would ever wear such stylish silk-lined skirts, and catch them up in such an airy, graceful way when she ran up-stairs; and if she would ever have a Paris hat with long black feathers, and always wear a bunch of sweet violets on her coat.
She looked at herself in Cousin Kate's mirror as she passed it, and sighed. "Well, I am better-looking than when I left home," she thought. "That's one comfort. My face isn't freckled now, and my hair is more becoming this way than in tight little pigtails, the way I used to wear it."
Cousin Kate, coming up behind her, looked over her head and smiled at the attractive reflection of Joyce's rosy cheeks and straightforward gray eyes. Then she stopped suddenly and put her arms around her, saying, "What's the matter, dear? You have been crying."
"Nothing," answered Joyce, but there was a quaver in her voice, and she turned her head aside. Cousin Kate put her hand under the resolute little chin, and tilted it until she could look into the eyes that dropped under her gaze "You have been crying," she said again, this time in English, "crying because you are homesick. I wonder if it would not be a good occupation for you to open all the bundles that I got this afternoon. There is a saucepan in one, and a big spoon in the other, and all sorts of good things in the others, so that we can make some molasses candy here in my room, over the open fire. While it cooks you can curl up in the big armchair and listen to a fairy tale in the firelight. Would you like that, little one?"
"Oh, yes!" cried Joyce, ecstatically. "That's what they are doing at home this minute, I am sure. We always make candy every afternoon in the winter time."
Presently the saucepan was sitting on the coals, and Joyce's little pug nose was rapturously sniffing the odor of bubbling molasses. "I know what I'd like the story to be about," she said, as she stirred the delicious mixture with the new spoon. "Make up something about the big gate across the road, with the scissors on it."
Cousin Kate crossed the room, and sat down by the window, where she could look out and see the top of it.
"Let me think for a few minutes," she said. "I have been very much interested in that old gate myself."
She thought so long that the candy was done before she was ready to tell the story; but while it cooled in plates outside on the window-sill, she drew Joyce to a seat beside her in the chimney-corner. With her feet on the fender, and the child's head on her shoulder, she began this story, and the firelight dancing on the walls, showed a smile on Joyce's contented little face.