Chapter VIII. Christmas Plans and an Accident.
 

That night, when Marie came in to light the lamps and brush Joyce's hair before dinner, she had some news to tell.

"Brossard has been sent away from the Ciseaux place," she said. "A new man is coming to-morrow, and my friend, Clotilde Robard, has already taken the position of housekeeper. She says that a very different life has begun for little Monsieur Jules, and that in his fine new clothes one could never recognize the little goatherd. He looks now like what he is, a gentleman's son. He has the room next to monsieur's, all freshly furnished, and after New Year a tutor is coming from Paris.

"But they say that it is pitiful to see how greatly the child fears his uncle. He does not understand the old man's cold, forbidding manner, and it provokes monsieur to have the little one tremble and grow pale whenever he speaks. Clotilde says that Madame Greville told monsieur that the boy needed games and young companions to make him more like other children, and he promised her that Monsieur Jules should come over here to-morrow afternoon to play with you."

"Oh, good!" cried Joyce. "We'll have another barbecue if the day is fine. I am so glad that we do not have to be bothered any more by those tiresome old goats."

By the time the next afternoon arrived, however, Joyce was far too much interested in something else to think of a barbecue. Cousin Kate had come back from Paris with a trunk full of pretty things, and a plan for the coming Christmas. At first she thought of taking only madame into her confidence, and preparing a small Christmas tree for Joyce; but afterwards she concluded that it would give the child more pleasure if she were allowed to take part in the preparations. It would keep her from being homesick by giving her something else to think about.

Then madame proposed inviting a few of the little peasant children who had never seen a Christmas tree. The more they discussed the plan the larger it grew, like a rolling snowball. By lunch-time madame had a list of thirty children, who were to be bidden to the Noel fete, and Cousin Kate had decided to order a tree tall enough to touch the ceiling.

When Jules came over, awkward and shy with the consciousness of his new clothes, he found Joyce sitting in the midst of yards of gaily colored tarletan. It was heaped up around her in bright masses of purple and orange and scarlet and green, and she was making it into candy-bags for the tree.

In a few minutes Jules had forgotten all about himself, and was as busy as she, pinning the little stocking-shaped patterns in place, and carefully cutting out those fascinating bags.

"You would be lots of help," said Joyce, "if you could come over every day, for there's all the ornaments to unpack, and the corn to shell, and pop, and string. It will take most of my time to dress the dolls, and there's such a short time to do everything in."

"You never saw any pop-corn, did you, Jules?" asked Cousin Kate. "When I was here last time, I couldn't find it anywhere in France; but the other day a friend told me of a grocer in Paris, who imports it for his American customers every winter. So I went there. Joyce, suppose you get the popper and show Jules what the corn is like."

Madame was interested also, as she watched the little brown kernels shaken back and forth in their wire cage over the glowing coals. When they began popping open, the little seeds suddenly turning into big white blossoms, she sent Rosalie running to bring monsieur to see the novel sight.

"We can eat and work at the same time," said Joyce, as she filled a dish with the corn, and called Jules back to the table, where he had been cutting tarletan. "There's no time to lose. See what a funny grain this is!" she cried, picking up one that lay on the top of the dish. "It looks like Therese, the fish woman, in her white cap."

"And here is a goat's head," said Jules, picking up another grain. "And this one looks like a fat pigeon."

He had forgotten his shyness entirely now, and was laughing and talking as easily as Jack could have done.

"Jules," said Joyce, suddenly, looking around to see that the older people were too busy with their own conversation to notice hers. "Jules, why don't you talk to your Uncle Martin the way you do to me? He would like you lots better if you would. Robard says that you get pale and frightened every time he speaks to you, and it provokes him for you to be so timid."

Jules dropped his eyes. "I cannot help it," he exclaimed. "He looks so grim and cross that my voice just won't come out of my throat when I open my mouth."

Joyce studied him critically, with her head tipped a little to one side. "Well, I must say," she exclaimed, finally, "that, for a boy born in America, you have the least dare about you of anybody I ever saw. Your Uncle Martin isn't any grimmer or crosser than a man I know at home. There's Judge Ward, so big and solemn and dignified that everybody is half way afraid of him. Even grown people have always been particular about what they said to him.

"Last summer his little nephew, Charley Ward, came to visit him. Charley's just a little thing, still in dresses, and he calls his uncle, Bill. Think of anybody daring to call Judge Ward, Bill! No matter what the judge was doing, or how glum he looked, if Charley took a notion, he would go up and stand in front of him, and say, 'Laugh, Bill, laugh!' If the judge happened to be reading, he'd have to put down his book, and no matter whether he felt funny or not, or whether there was anything to laugh at or not, he would have to throw his head back and just roar. Charley liked to see his fat sides shake, and his white teeth shine. I've heard people say that the judge likes Charley better than anybody else in the world, because he's the only person who acts as if he wasn't afraid of him."

Jules sat still a minute, considering, and then asked, anxiously, "But what do you suppose would happen if I should say 'Laugh, Martin, laugh,' to my uncle?"

Joyce shrugged her shoulders impatiently. "Mercy, Jules, I did not mean that you should act like a three-year-old baby. I meant that you ought to talk up to your uncle some. Now this is the way you are." She picked up a kernel of the unpopped corn, and held it out for him to see. "You shut yourself up in a little hard ball like this, so that your uncle can't get acquainted with you. How can he know what is inside of your head if you always shut up like a clam whenever he comes near you? This is the way that you ought to be." She shot one of the great white grains towards him with a deft flip of her thumb and finger. "Be free and open with him."

Jules put the tender morsel in his mouth and ate it thoughtfully. "I'll try," he promised, "if you really think that it would please him, and I can think of anything to say. You don't know how I dread going to the table when everything is always so still that we can hear the clock tick."

"Well, you take my advice," said Joyce. "Talk about anything. Tell him about our Thanksgiving feast and the Christmas tree, and ask him if you can't come over every day to help. I wouldn't let anybody think that I was a coward."

Joyce's little lecture had a good effect, and monsieur saw the wisdom of Madame Greville's advice when Jules came to the table that night. He had brought a handful of the wonderful corn to show his uncle, and in the conversation that it brought about he unconsciously showed something else,--something of his sensitive inner self that aroused his uncle's interest.

Every afternoon of the week that followed found Jules hurrying over to Madame Greville's to help with the Christmas preparations. He strung yards of corn, and measured out the nuts and candy for each of the gay bags. Twice he went in the carriage to Tours with Cousin Kate and Joyce, to help buy presents for the thirty little guests. He was jostled by the holiday shoppers in crowded aisles. He stood enraptured in front of wonderful show windows, and he had the joy of choosing fifteen things from piles of bright tin trumpets, drums, jumping-jacks, and picture-books. Joyce chose the presents for the girls.

The tree was bought and set up in a large unused room back of the library, and as soon as each article was in readiness it was carried in and laid on a table beside it. Jules used to steal in sometimes and look at the tapers, the beautiful colored glass balls, the gilt stars and glittering tinsel, and wonder how the stately cedar would look in all that array of loveliness. Everything belonging to it seemed sacred, even the unused scraps of bright tarletan and the bits of broken candles. He would not let Marie sweep them up to be burned, but gathered them carefully into a box and carried them home. There were several things that he had rescued from her broom,--one of those beautiful red balls, cracked on one side it is true, but gleaming like a mammoth red cherry on the other. There were scraps of tinsel and odds and ends of ornaments that had been broken or damaged by careless handling. These he hid away in a chest in his room, as carefully as a miser would have hoarded a bag of gold.

Clotilde Robard, the housekeeper, wondered why she found his candle burned so low several mornings. She would have wondered still more if she had gone into his room a while before daybreak. He had awakened early, and, sitting up in bed with the quilts wrapped around him, spread the scraps of tarletan on his knees. He was piecing together with his awkward little fingers enough to make several tiny bags.

Henri missed his spade one morning, and hunted for it until he was out of patience. It was nowhere to be seen. Half an hour later, coming back to the house, he found it hanging in its usual place, where he had looked for it a dozen times at least. Jules had taken it down to the woods to dig up a little cedar-tree, so little that it was not over a foot high when it was planted in a box.

Clotilde had to be taken into the secret, for he could not hide it from her. "It is for my Uncle Martin," he said, timidly. "Do you think he will like it?"

The motherly housekeeper looked at the poor little tree, decked out in its scraps of cast-off finery, and felt a sob rising in her throat, but she held up her hands with many admiring exclamations that made Jules glow with pride.

"I have no beautiful white strings of pop-corn to hang over it like wreaths of snow," he said, "so I am going down the lane for some mistletoe that grows in one of the highest trees. The berries are like lovely white wax beads."

"You are a good little lad," said the housekeeper, kindly, as she gave his head an affectionate pat. "I shall have to make something to hang on that tree myself; some gingerbread figures, maybe. I used to know how to cut out men and horses and pigs,--nearly all the animals. I must try it again some day soon."

A happy smile spread all over Jules's face as he thanked her. The words, "You are a good little lad," sent a warm glow of pleasure through him, and rang like music in his ears all the way down the lane. How bright the world looked this frosty December morning! What cheeriness there was in the ring of Henri's axe as he chopped away at the stove-wood! What friendliness in the baker's whistle, as he rattled by in his big cart! Jules found himself whistling, too, for sheer gladness, and all because of no more kindness than might have been thrown to a dog; a pat on the head and the words, "You are a good little lad."

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Sometime after, it may have been two hours or more, Madame Greville was startled by a wild, continuous ringing of the bell at her front gate. Somebody was sending peal after peal echoing through the garden, with quick, impatient jerks of the bell-wire. She hurried out herself to answer the summons.

Berthe had already shot back the bolt and showed Clotilde leaning against the stone post, holding her fat sides and completely exhausted by her short run from the Ciseaux house.

"Will madame send Gabriel for the doctor?" she cried, gasping for breath at every word. "The little Monsieur Jules has fallen from a tree and is badly hurt. We do not know how much, for he is still unconscious and his uncle is away from home. Henri found him lying under a tree with a big bunch of mistletoe in his arms. He carried him up-stairs while I ran over to ask you to send Gabriel quickly on a horse for the doctor."

"Gabriel shall go immediately," said Madame Greville, "and I shall follow you as soon as I have given the order."

Clotilde started back in as great haste as her weight would allow, puffing and blowing and wiping her eyes on her apron at every step. Madame overtook her before she had gone many rods. Always calm and self-possessed in every emergency, madame took command now; sent the weeping Clotilde to look for old linen, Henri to the village for Monsieur Ciseaux, and then turned her attention to Jules.

"To think," said Clotilde, coming into the room, "that the last thing the poor little lamb did was to show me his Christmas tree that he was making ready for his uncle!" She pointed to the corner where it stood, decked by awkward boyish hands in its pitiful collection of scraps.

"Poor little fellow!" said madame, with tears in her own eyes. "He has done the best he could. Put it in the closet, Clotilde. Jules would not want it to be seen before Christmas."

Madame stayed until the doctor had made his visit; then the report that she carried home was that Jules had regained consciousness, and that, as far as could be discovered, his only injury was a broken leg.

Joyce took refuge in the pear-tree. It was not alone because Jules was hurt that she wanted to cry, but because they must have the Noel fete without him. She knew how bitterly he would be disappointed.