The Gate of the Giant Scissors by Annie Fellows Johnston
Chapter V. A Thanksgiving Barbecue.
"This doesn't seem a bit like Thanksgiving Day, Marie," said Joyce, plaintively, as she sat up in bed to take the early breakfast that her maid brought in,--a cup of chocolate and a roll.
"In our country the very minute you wake up you can feel that it is a holiday. Outdoors it's nearly always cold and gray, with everything covered with snow. Inside you can smell turkey and pies and all sorts of good spicy things. Here it is so warm that the windows are open and flowers blooming in the garden, and there isn't a thing to make it seem different from any other old day."
Here her grumbling was interrupted by a knock at the door, and Madame Greville's maid, Berthe, came in with a message.
"Madame and monsieur intend spending the day in Tours, and since Mademoiselle Ware has written that Mademoiselle Joyce is to have no lessons on this American holiday, they will be pleased to have her accompany them in the carriage. She can spend the morning with them there or return immediately with Gabriel."
"Of course I want to go," cried Joyce. "I love to drive. But I'd rather come back here to lunch and have it by myself in the garden. Berthe, ask madame if I can't have it served in the little kiosk at the end of the arbor."
As soon as she had received a most gracious permission, Joyce began to make a little plan. It troubled her conscience somewhat, for she felt that she ought to mention it to madame, but she was almost certain that madame would object, and she had set her heart on carrying it out.
"I won't speak about it now," she said to herself, "because I am not sure that I am going to do it. Mamma would think it was all right, but foreigners are so queer about some things."
Uncertain as Joyce may have been about her future actions, as they drove towards town, no sooner had madame and monsieur stepped from the carriage, on the Rue Nationale, than she was perfectly sure.
"Stop at the baker's, Gabriel," she ordered as they turned homeward, then at the big grocery on the corner. "Cousin Kate told me to treat myself to something nice," she said apologetically to her conscience, as she gave up the twenty francs to the clerk to be changed.
If Gabriel wondered what was in the little parcels which she brought back to the carriage, he made no sign. He only touched his hat respectfully, as she gave the next order: "Stop where the road turns by the cemetery, Gabriel; at the house with the steps going up to an iron-barred gate. I'll be back in two or three minutes," she said, when she had reached it, and climbed from the carriage.
To his surprise, instead of entering the gate, she hurried on past it, around the bend in the road. In a little while she came running back, her shoes covered with damp earth, as if she had been walking in a freshly ploughed field.
If Gabriel's eyes could have followed her around that bend in the road, he would have seen a sight past his understanding: Mademoiselle Joyce running at the top of her speed to meet a little goatherd in wooden shoes and blue cotton blouse,--a common little peasant goatherd.
"It's Thanksgiving Day. Jules," she announced, gasping, as she sank down on the ground beside him. "We're the only Americans here, and everybody has gone off; and Cousin Kate said to celebrate in some way. I'm going to have a dinner in the garden. I've bought a rabbit, and we'll dig a hole, and make a fire, and barbecue it the way Jack and I used to do at home. And we'll roast eggs in the ashes, and have a fine time. I've got a lemon tart and a little iced fruit-cake, too."
All this was poured out in such breathless haste, and in such a confusion of tongues, first a sentence of English and then a word of French, that it is no wonder that Jules grew bewildered in trying to follow her. She had to begin again at the beginning, and speak very slowly, in order to make him understand that it was a feast day of some kind, and that he, Jules, was invited to some sort of a strange, wonderful entertainment in Monsieur Greville's garden. "But Brossard is away from home," said Jules, "and there is no one to watch the goats, and keep them from straying down the road. Still it would be just the same if he were home," he added, sadly. "He would not let me go, I am sure. I have never been out of sight of that roof since I first came here, except on errands to the village, when I had to run all the way back." He pointed to the peaked gables, adorned by the scissors of his crazy old ancestor.
"Brossard isn't your father," cried Joyce, indignantly, "nor your uncle, nor your cousin, nor anything else that has a right to shut you up that way. Isn't there a field with a fence all around it, that you could drive the goats into for a few hours?"
Jules shook his head.
"Well, I can't have my Thanksgiving spoiled for just a couple of old goats," exclaimed Joyce. "You'll have to bring them along, and we'll shut them up in the carriage-house. You come over in about an hour, and I'll be at the side gate waiting for you."
Joyce had always been a general in her small way. She made her plans and issued her orders both at home and at school, and the children accepted her leadership as a matter of course. Even if Jules had not been willing and anxious to go, it is doubtful if he could have mustered courage to oppose the arrangements that she made in such a masterful way; but Jules had not the slightest wish to object to anything whatsoever that Joyce might propose.
It is safe to say that the old garden had never before even dreamed of such a celebration as the one that took place that afternoon behind its moss-coated walls. The time-stained statue of Eve, which stood on one side of the fountain, looked across at the weather-beaten figure of Adam, on the other side, in stony-eyed surprise. The little marble satyr in the middle of the fountain, which had been grinning ever since its endless shower-bath began, seemed to grin wider than ever, as it watched the children's strange sport.
Jules dug the little trench according to Joyce's directions, and laid the iron grating which she had borrowed from the cook across it, and built the fire underneath. "We ought to have something especially patriotic and Thanksgivingey," said Joyce, standing on one foot to consider. "Oh, now I know," she cried, after a moment's thought. "Cousin Kate has a lovely big silk flag in the top of her trunk. I'll run and get that, and then I'll recite the 'Landing of the Pilgrims' to you while the rabbit cooks."
Presently a savory odor began to steal along the winding paths of the garden, between the laurel-bushes,--a smell of barbecued meat sputtering over the fire. Above the door of the little kiosk, with many a soft swish of silken stirrings, hung the beautiful old flag. Then a clear little voice floated up through the pine-trees:
"My country, 'tis of thee, Sweet land of liberty, Of thee I sing!"
All the time that Joyce sang, she was moving around the table, setting out the plates and rattling cups and saucers. She could not keep a little quaver out of her voice, for, as she went on, all the scenes of all the times that she had sung that song before came crowding up in her memory. There were the Thanksgiving days in the church at home, and the Washington's birthdays at school, and two Decoration days, when, as a granddaughter of a veteran, she had helped scatter flowers over the soldiers' graves.
Somehow it made her feel so hopelessly far away from all that made life dear to be singing of that "sweet land of liberty" in a foreign country, with only poor little alien Jules for company.
Maybe that is why the boy's first lesson in patriotism was given so earnestly by his homesick little teacher. Something that could not be put into words stirred within him, as, looking up at the soft silken flutterings of the old flag, he listened for the first time to the story of the Pilgrim Fathers.
The rabbit cooked slowly, so slowly that there was time for Jules to learn how to play mumble-peg while they waited. At last it was done, and Joyce proudly plumped it into the platter that had been waiting for it. Marie had already brought out a bountiful lunch, cold meats and salad and a dainty pudding. By the time that Joyce had added her contribution to the feast, there was scarcely an inch of the table left uncovered. Jules did not know the names of half the dishes.
Not many miles away from that old garden, scattered up and down the Loire throughout all the region of fair Tourraine, rise the turrets of many an old chateau. Great banquet halls, where kings and queens once feasted, still stand as silent witnesses of a gay bygone court life; but never in any chateau or palace among them all was feast more thoroughly enjoyed than this impromptu dinner in the garden, where a little goatherd was the only guest.
It was an enchanted spot to Jules, made so by the magic of Joyce's wonderful gift of story-telling. For the first time in his life that he could remember, he heard of Santa Claus and Christmas trees, of Bluebeard and Aladdin's lamp, and all the dear old fairy tales that were so entrancing he almost forgot to eat.
Then they played that he was the prince, Prince Ethelried, and that the goats in the carriage-house were his royal steeds, and that Joyce was a queen whom he had come to visit.
But it came to an end, as all beautiful things must do. The bells in the village rang four, and Prince Ethelried started up as Cinderella must have done when the pumpkin coach disappeared. He was no longer a king's son; he was only Jules, the little goatherd, who must hurry back to the field before the coming of Brossard.
Joyce went with him to the carriage-house. Together they swung open the great door. Then an exclamation of dismay fell from Joyce's lips. All over the floor were scattered scraps of leather and cloth and hair, the kind used in upholstering. The goats had whiled away the hours of their imprisonment by chewing up the cushions of the pony cart.
Jules turned pale with fright. Knowing so little of the world, he judged all grown people by his knowledge of Henri and Brossard. "Oh, what will they do to us?" he gasped.
"Nothing at all," answered Joyce, bravely, although her heart beat twice as fast as usual as monsieur's accusing face rose up before her.
"It was all my fault," said Jules, ready to cry. "What must I do?" Joyce saw his distress, and with quick womanly tact recognized her duty as hostess. It would never do to let this, his first Thanksgiving Day, be clouded by a single unhappy remembrance. She would pretend that it was a part of their last game; so she waved her hand, and said, in a theatrical voice, "You forget, Prince Ethelried, that in the castle of Irmingarde she rules supreme. If it is the pleasure of your royal steeds to feed upon cushions they shall not be denied, even though they choose my own coach pillows, of gold-cloth and velour."
"But what if Gabriel should tell Brossard?" questioned Jules, his teeth almost chattering at the mere thought.
"Oh, never mind, Jules," she answered, laughingly. "Don't worry about a little thing like that. I'll make it all right with madame as soon as she gets home."
Jules, with utmost faith in Joyce's power to do anything that she might undertake, drew a long breath of relief. Half a dozen times between the gate and the lane that led into the Ciseaux field, he turned around to wave his old cap in answer to the hopeful flutter of her little white handkerchief; but when he was out of sight she went back to the carriage-house and looked at the wreck of the cushions with a sinking heart. After that second look, she was not so sure of making it all right with madame.
Going slowly up to her room, she curled up in the window-seat to wait for the sound of the carriage wheels. The blue parrots on the wall-paper sat in their blue hoops in straight rows from floor to ceiling, and hung all their dismal heads. It seemed to Joyce as if there were thousands of them, and that each one was more unhappy than any of the others. The blue roses on the bed-curtains, that had been in such gay blossom a few hours before, looked ugly and unnatural now.
Over the mantel hung a picture that had been a pleasure to Joyce ever since she had taken up her abode in this quaint blue room. It was called "A Message from Noel," and showed an angel flying down with gifts to fill a pair of little wooden shoes that some child had put out on a window-sill below. When madame had explained that the little French children put out their shoes for Saint Noel to fill, instead of hanging stockings for Santa Claus, Joyce had been so charmed with the picture that she declared that she intended to follow the French custom herself, this year.
Now, even the picture looked different, since she had lost her joyful anticipations of Christmas. "It is all No-el to me now," she sobbed. "No tree, no Santa Claus, and now, since the money must go to pay for the goats' mischief, no presents for anybody in the dear little brown house at home,--not even mamma and the baby!"
A big salty tear trickled down the side of Joyce's nose and splashed on her hand; then another one. It was such a gloomy ending for her happy Thanksgiving Day. One consoling thought came to her in time to stop the deluge that threatened. "Anyway, Jules has had a good time for once in his life." The thought cheered her so much that, when Marie came in to light the lamps, Joyce was walking up and down the room with her hands behind her back, singing.
As soon as she was dressed for dinner she went down-stairs, but found no one in the drawing-room. A small fire burned cozily on the hearth, for the November nights were growing chilly. Joyce picked up a book and tried to read, but found herself looking towards the door fully as often as at the page before her. Presently she set her teeth together and swallowed hard, for there was a rustling in the hall. The portiere was pushed aside and madame swept into the room in a dinner-gown of dark red velvet.
To Joyce's waiting eyes she seemed more imposing, more elegant, and more unapproachable than she had ever been before. At madame's entrance Joyce rose as usual, but when the red velvet train had swept on to a seat beside the fire, she still remained standing. Her lips seemed glued together after those first words of greeting.
"Be seated, mademoiselle," said the lady, with a graceful motion of her hand towards a chair. "How have you enjoyed your holiday?"
Joyce gave a final swallow of the choking lump in her throat, and began her humble confession that she had framed up-stairs among the rows of dismal blue wall-paper parrots. She started with Clotilde Robard's story of Jules, told of her accidental meeting with him, of all that she knew of his hard life with Brossard, and of her longing for some one to play with. Then she acknowledged that she had planned the barbecue secretly, fearing that madame would not allow her to invite the little goatherd. At the conclusion, she opened the handkerchief which she had been holding tightly clenched in her hand, and poured its contents in the red velvet lap.
"There's all that is left of my Christmas money," she said, sadly, "seventeen francs and two sous. If it isn't enough to pay for the cushions, I'll write to Cousin Kate, and maybe she will lend me the rest."
Madame gathered up the handful of coin, and slowly rose. "It is only a step to the carriage-house," she said. "If you will kindly ring for Berthe to bring a lamp we will look to see how much damage has been done."
It was an unusual procession that filed down the garden walk a few minutes later. First came Berthe, in her black dress and white cap, holding a lamp high above her head, and screwing her forehead into a mass of wrinkles as she peered out into the surrounding darkness. After her came madame, holding up her dress and stepping daintily along in her high-heeled little slippers. Joyce brought up the rear, stumbling along in the darkness of madame's large shadow, so absorbed in her troubles that she did not see the amused expression on the face of the grinning satyr in the fountain.
Eve, looking across at Adam, seemed to wink one of her stony eyes, as much as to say, "Humph! Somebody else has been getting into trouble. There's more kinds of forbidden fruit than one; pony-cart cushions, for instance."
Berthe opened the door, and madame stepped inside the carriage-house. With her skirts held high in both hands, she moved around among the wreck of the cushions, turning over a bit with the toe of her slipper now and then.
Madame wore velvet dinner-gowns, it is true, and her house was elegant in its fine old furnishings bought generations ago; but only her dressmaker and herself knew how many times those gowns had been ripped and cleaned and remodelled. It was only constant housewifely skill that kept the antique furniture repaired and the ancient brocade hangings from falling into holes. None but a French woman, trained in petty economies, could have guessed how little money and how much thought was spent in keeping her table up to its high standard of excellence.
Now as she looked and estimated, counting the fingers of one hand with the thumb of the other, a wish stirred in her kind old heart that she need not take the child's money; but new cushions must be bought, and she must be just to herself before she could be generous to others. So she went on with her estimating and counting, and then called Gabriel to consult with him.
"Much of the same hair can be used again," she said, finally, "and the cushions were partly worn, so that it would not be right for you to have to bear the whole expense of new ones. I shall keep sixteen,--no, I shall keep only fifteen francs of your money, mademoiselle. I am sorry to take any of it, since you have been so frank with me; but you must see that it would not be justice for me to have to suffer in consequence of your fault. In France, children do nothing without the permission of their elders, and it would be well for you to adopt the same rule, my dear mademoiselle."
Here she dropped two francs and two sous into Joyce's hand. It was more than she had dared to hope for. Now there would be at least a little picture-book apiece for the children at home.
This time Joyce saw the grin on the satyr's face when they passed the fountain. She was smiling herself when they entered the house, where monsieur was waiting to escort them politely in to dinner.