The Gate of the Giant Scissors by Annie Fellows Johnston
Chapter IX. A Great Discovery.
"Only two more nights till Christmas eve, two more nights, two more nights," sang Joyce to Jules in a sort of chant. She was sitting beside his bed with a box in her lap, full of little dolls, which she was dressing. Every day since his accident she had been allowed to make him two visits,--one in the morning, and one in the afternoon. They helped wonderfully in shortening the long, tedious days for Jules. True, Madame Greville came often with broths and jellies, Cousin Kate made flying visits to leave rare hothouse grapes and big bunches of violets; Clotilde hung over him with motherly tenderness, and his uncle looked into the room many times a day to see that he wanted nothing.
Jules's famished little heart drank in all this unusual kindness and attention as greedily as the parched earth drinks in the rain. Still, he would have passed many a long, restless hour, had it not been for Joyce's visits.
She brought over a photograph of the house at home, with the family seated in a group on the front porch. Jules held it close while she introduced each one of them. By the time he had heard all about Holland's getting lost the day the circus came to town, and Jack's taking the prize in a skating contest, and Mary's setting her apron on fire, and the baby's sweet little ways when he said his prayers, or played peek-a-boo, he felt very well acquainted with the entire Ware family. Afterward, when Joyce had gone, he felt his loneliness more than ever. He lay there, trying to imagine how it must feel to have a mother and sisters and brothers all as fond of each other as Joyce's were, and to live in the midst of such good times as always went on in the little brown house.
Monsieur Ciseaux, sitting by his fire with the door open between the two rooms, listened to Joyce's merry chatter with almost as much interest as Jules. He would have been ashamed to admit how eagerly he listened for her step on the stairs every day, or what longings wakened in his lonely old heart, when he sat by his loveless fireside after she had gone home, and there was no more sound of children's voices in the next room.
There had been good times in the old Ciseaux house also, once, and two little brothers and a sister had played in that very room; but they had grown up long ago, and the ogre of selfishness and misunderstanding had stolen in and killed all their happiness. Ah, well, there was much that the world would never know about that misunderstanding. There was much to forgive and forget on both sides.
Joyce had a different story for each visit. To-day she had just finished telling Jules the fairy tale of which he never tired, the tale of the giant scissors.
"I never look at those scissors over the gate without thinking of you," said Jules, "and the night when you played that I was the Prince, and you came to rescue me."
"I wish I could play scissors again, and rescue somebody else that I know," answered Joyce. "I'd take poor old Number Thirty-one away from the home of the Little Sisters of the Poor."
"What's Number Thirty-one?" asked Jules. "You never told me about that."
"Didn't I?" asked Joyce, in surprise. "She is a lonely old woman that the sisters take care of. I have talked about her so often, and written home so much, that I thought I had told everybody. I can hardly keep from crying whenever I think of her. Marie and I stop every day we go into town and take her flowers. I have been there four times since my first visit with madame. Sometimes she tells me things that happened when she was a little girl here in France, but she talks to me oftenest in English about the time when she lived in America. I can hardly imagine that she was ever as young as I am, and that she romped with her brothers as I did with Jack."
"Tell some of the things that she told you," urged Jules; so Joyce began repeating all that she knew about Number Thirty-one.
It was a pathetic little tale that brought tears to Jules's eyes, and a dull pain to the heart of the old man who listened in the next room. "I wish I were rich," exclaimed Joyce, impulsively, as she finished. "I wish I had a beautiful big home, and I would adopt her for my grandmother. She should have a great lovely room, where the sun shines in all day long, and it should be furnished in rose-color like the one that she had when she was a girl. I'd dress her in gray satin and soft white lace. She has the prettiest silvery hair, and beautiful dark eyes. She would make a lovely grandmother. And I would have a maid to wait on her, and there'd be mignonette always growing in boxes on the window-sill. Every time I came back from town, I'd bring her a present just for a nice little surprise; and I'd read to her, and sing to her, and make her feel that she belonged to somebody, so that she'd be happy all the rest of her days.
"Yesterday while I was there she was holding a little cut glass vinaigrette. It had a big D engraved on the silver top. She said that it was the only thing that she had left except her wedding ring, and that it was to be Sister Denisa's when she was gone. The D stands for both their names. Hers is Desire. She said the vinaigrette was too precious to part with as long as she lives, because her oldest brother gave it to her on her twelfth birthday, when she was exactly as old as I am. Isn't Desire a pretty name?"
"Mademoiselle," called Monsieur Ciseaux from the next room, "mademoiselle, will you come--will you tell me--what name was that? Desire, did you say?"
There was something so strange in the way he called that name Desire, almost like a cry, that Joyce sprang up, startled, and ran into the next room. She had never ventured inside before.
"Tell me again what you were telling Jules," said the old man. "Seventy-three years, did you say? And how long has she been back in France?"
Joyce began to answer his rapid questions, but stopped with a frightened cry as her glance fell on a large portrait hanging over the mantel. "There she is!" she cried, excitedly dancing up and down as she pointed to the portrait. "There she is! That's Number Thirty-one, her very own self."
"You are mistaken!" cried the old man, attempting to rise from his chair, but trembling so that he could scarcely pull himself up on his feet. "That is a picture of my mother, and Desire is dead; long dead."
"But it is exactly like Number Thirty-one,--I mean Madame Desire," persisted Joyce.
Monsieur looked at her wildly from under his shaggy brows, and then, turning away, began to pace up and down the room. "I had a sister once," he began. "She would have been seventy-three this month, and her name was Desire."
Joyce stood motionless in the middle of the room, wondering what was coming next. Suddenly turning with a violence that made her start, he cried, "No, I never can forgive! She has been dead to me nearly a lifetime. Why did you tell me this, child? Out of my sight! What is it to me if she is homeless and alone? Go! Go!"
He waved his hands so wildly in motioning her away, that Joyce ran out of the room and banged the door behind her.
"What do you suppose is the matter with him?" asked Jules, in a frightened whisper, as they listened to his heavy tread, back and forth, back and forth, in the next room.
Joyce shook her head. "I don't know for sure," she answered, hesitatingly, "but I believe that he is going crazy."
Jules's eyes opened so wide that Joyce wished she had not frightened him. "Oh, you know that I didn't mean it," she said, reassuringly. The heavy tread stopped, and the children looked at each other.
"What can he be doing now?" Jules asked, anxiously.
Joyce tiptoed across the room, and peeped through the keyhole. "He is sitting down now, by the table, with his head on his arms. He looks as if he might be crying about something."
"I wish he didn't feel bad," said Jules, with a swift rush of pity. "He has been so good to me ever since he sent Brossard away. Sometimes I think that he must feel as much alone in the world as I do, because all his family are dead, too. Before I broke my leg I was making him a little Christmas tree, so that he need not feel left out when we had the big one. I was getting mistletoe for it when I fell. I can't finish it now, but there's five pieces of candle on it, and I'll get Clotilde to light them while the fete is going on, so that I'll not miss the big tree so much. Oh, nobody knows how much I want to go to that fete! Sometimes it seems more than I can bear to have to stay away."
"Where is your tree?" asked Joyce. "May I see it?"
Jules pointed to the closet. "It's in there," he said, proudly. "I trimmed it with pieces that Marie swept up to burn. Oh, shut the door! Quick!" he cried, excitedly, as a step was heard in the hall. "I don't want anybody to see it before the time comes."
The step was Henri's. He had come to say that Marie was waiting to take mademoiselle home. Joyce was glad of the interruption. She could not say anything in praise of the poor little tree, and she knew that Jules expected her to. She felt relieved that Henri's presence made it impossible for her to express any opinion.
She bade Jules good-by gaily, but went home with such a sober little face that Cousin Kate began to question her about her visit. Madame, sitting by the window with her embroidery-frame, heard the account also. Several times she looked significantly across at Cousin Kate, over the child's head.
"Joyce," said Cousin Kate, "you have had so little outdoor exercise since Jules's accident that it would be a good thing for you to run around in the garden awhile before dark."
Joyce had not seen madame's glances, but she felt vaguely that Cousin Kate was making an excuse to get rid of her. She was disappointed, for she thought that her account of monsieur's queer actions and Jules's little tree would have made a greater impression on her audience. She went out obediently, walking up and down the paths with her hands in her jacket pockets, and her red tam-o'shanter pulled down over her eyes. The big white cat followed her, ran on ahead, and then stopped, arching its back as if waiting for her to stroke it. Taking no notice of it, Joyce turned aside to the pear-tree and climbed up among the highest branches.
The cat rubbed against the tree, mewing and purring by turns, then sprang up in the tree after her. She took the warm, furry creature in her arms and began talking to it.
"Oh, Solomon," she said, "what do you suppose is the matter over there? My poor old lady must be monsieur's sister, or she couldn't have looked exactly like that picture, and he would not have acted so queerly. What do you suppose it is that he can never forgive? Why did he call me in there and then drive me out in such a crazy way, and tramp around the room, and put his head down on his arms as if he were crying?"
Solomon purred louder and closed his eyes.
"Oh, you dear, comfortable old thing," exclaimed Joyce, giving the cat a shake. "Wake up and take some interest in what I am saying. I wish you were as smart as Puss in Boots; then maybe you could find out what is the matter. How I wish fairy tales could be true! I'd say 'Giant scissors, right the wrong and open the gate that's been shut so long,' There! Did you hear that, Solomon Greville? I said a rhyme right off without waiting to make it up. Then the scissors would leap down and cut the misunderstanding or trouble or whatever it is, and the gate would fly open, and there the brother and sister would meet each other. All the unhappy years would be forgotten, and they'd take each other by the hand, just as they did when they were little children, Martin and Desire, and go into the old home together,--on Christmas Day, in the morning."
Joyce was half singing her words now, as she rocked the cat back and forth in her arms. "And then the scissors would bring Jules a magnificent big tree, and he'd never be afraid of his uncle any more. Oh, they'd all have such a happy time on Christmas Day, in the morning!"
Joyce had fully expected to be homesick all during the holidays; but now she was so absorbed in other people's troubles, and her day-dreams to make everybody happy, that she forgot all about herself. She fairly bubbled over with the peace and good-will of the approaching Christmas-tide, and rocked the cat back and forth in the pear-tree to the tune of a happy old-time carol.
A star or two twinkled out through the gloaming, and, looking up beyond them through the infinite stretches of space, Joyce thought of a verse that she and Jack had once learned together, one rainy Sunday at her Grandmother Ware's, sitting on a little stool at the old lady's feet:
"Behold thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and outstretched arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee." Her heart gave a bound at the thought. Why should she be sitting there longing for fairy tales to be true, when the great Hand that had set the stars to swinging could bring anything to pass; could even open that long-closed gate and bring the brother and sister together again, and send happiness to little Jules?
Joyce lifted her eyes again and looked up, out past the stars. "Oh, if you please, God," she whispered, "for the little Christ-child's sake."
When Joyce went back to the house, Cousin Kate sat in the drawing-room alone. Madame had gone over to see Jules, and did not return until long after dark. Berthe had been in three times to ask monsieur if dinner should be served, before they heard her ring at the gate. When she finally came, there was such an air of mystery about her that Joyce was puzzled. All that next morning, too, the day before Christmas, it seemed to Joyce as if something unusual were afloat. Everybody in the house was acting strangely.
Madame and Cousin Kate did not come home to lunch. She had been told that she must not go to see Jules until afternoon, and the doors of the room where the Christmas tree was kept had all been carefully locked. She thought that the morning never would pass. It was nearly three o'clock when she started over to see Jules. To her great surprise, as she ran lightly up the stairs to his room, she saw her Cousin Kate hurrying across the upper hall, with a pile of rose-colored silk curtains in her arms.
Jules tried to raise himself up in bed as Joyce entered, forgetting all about his broken leg in his eagerness to tell the news. "Oh, what do you think!" he cried. "They said that I might be the one to tell you. She is Uncle Martin's sister, the old woman you told about yesterday, and he is going to bring her home to-morrow."
Joyce sank into a chair with a little gasp at the suddenness of his news. She had not expected this beautiful ending of her day-dreams to be brought about so soon, although she had hoped that it would be sometime.
"How did it all happen?" she cried, with a beaming face. "Tell me about it! Quick!"
"Yesterday afternoon madame came over soon after you left. She gave me my wine jelly, and then went into Uncle Martin's room, and talked and talked for the longest time. After she had gone he did not eat any dinner, and I think that he must have sat up all night, for I heard him walking around every time that I waked up. Very early this morning, madame came back again, and M. Greville was with her. They drove with Uncle Martin to the Little Sisters of the Poor. I don't know what happened out there, only that Aunt Desire is to be brought home to-morrow.
"Your Cousin Kate was with them when they came back, and they had brought all sorts of things with them from Tours. She is in there now, making Aunt Desire's room look like it did when she was a girl."
"Oh, isn't it lovely!" exclaimed Joyce. "It is better than all the fairy tales that I have ever read or heard,--almost too good to be true!" Just then Cousin Kate called her, and she ran across the hall. Standing in the doorway, she looked all around the freshly furnished room, that glowed with the same soft, warm pink that colors the heart of a shell.
"How beautiful!" cried Joyce, glancing from the rose on the dressing-table to the soft curtains of the windows, which all opened towards the morning sun. "What a change it will be from that big bare dormitory with its rows of narrow little cots." She tiptoed around the room, admiring everything, and smiling over the happiness in store for poor old Number Thirty-one, when she should find herself in the midst of such loveliness.
Joyce's cup of pleasure was so full, that it brimmed over when they turned to leave the room. Cousin Kate slipped an arm around her, and kissed her softly on the forehead.
"You dear little fairy tale lover," she said. "Do you know that it is because of you that this desert has blossomed? If you had never made all those visits to the Little Sisters of the Poor, and had never won old Madame Desire's love and confidence by your sympathy, if you had never told Jules the story of the giant scissors, and wished so loud that you could fly to her rescue, old monsieur would never have known that his sister is living. Even then, I doubt if he would have taken this step, and brought her back home to live, if your stories of your mother and the children had not brought his own childhood back to him. He said that he used to sit there hour after hour, and hear you talk of your life at home, until some of its warmth and love crept into his own frozen old heart, and thawed out its selfishness and pride."
Joyce lifted her radiant face, and looked towards the half opened window, as she caught the sound of chimes. Across the Loire came the deep-toned voice of a cathedral bell, ringing for vespers.
"Listen!" she cried. "Peace on earth,--good-will--oh, Cousin Kate! It really does seem to say it! My Christmas has begun the day before."