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- Paula the Waldensian - 2/32 -
and no doubt his mother paid mighty well for his 'education.'"
My father smiled a bit sadly.
"You don't understand it, Teresa?"
"Yes, yes; I understand half of it, and I think I can guess at the other half."
"Do you want me to help you?" offered Louis.
Teresa looked scornfully at Louis--
"You! I should say not! You don't care to help me in the kitchen or run errands for me, and the only thing the matter with you now is curiosity!"
That settled Louis, and Teresa went on with her reading. Bending her great fat form more and more closely over the letter, she became more serious as she neared the bottom of the fourth page where the writing became so close and so fine that it was hardly possible to decipher it. When, at last, she lifted her head, her eyes were full of tears. "Poor, poor little thing!" she repeated softly.
"Well, what do you think?" said my father.
"What do I think? Why we must send at once and have her come here as soon as possible, because--"
"Who?" my father interrupted her without ceremony.
"Yes; who? who?" questioned Louis.
"Tell us, father, please," added my sister Rosa, a tall, serious girl of fifteen.
And as he did not answer us quickly our questions multiplied.
"Patience! Patience!" cried my father; "your turn will come."
"Teresa, you are getting old, and another girl in the house simply means more work for you and a lot more problems for me. If 'she' (my father had never been able to reconcile himself to pronounce the name of my mother since her untimely death)--if 'she' were here I would not hesitate, but to bring another orphan into a family already half-orphaned doesn't seem right to me."
"Don't worry, sir, a little more work doesn't worry Teresa Rouland. She will have to get up a little earlier and go to bed a little later, and that will be all."
"Well, Teresa, I'll think about it, and it needs to be 'thought about' a good deal."
"And why do you say that, sir? One doesn't have to reflect long about doing good."
"Well, I'll tell you why I hesitate. I'm sure that someone else could much better replace the parents of this orphaned girl. I must confess that for my part I don't feel equal to the task."
"Sir, would you like to know what I think? You have said to yourself, 'From the time that my wife died life has become a burden, and if it wasn't for the children I would have died of grief, but for love of them I must work and live. Therefore, with my heart torn and desolated as it is, I don't feel called upon to take any responsibility upon myself other than that of my own children!'"
"There is a good deal of truth in what you say, Teresa."
"Yes, sir, but it is very bad, very bad, if you will let me say so! I know I ought not to talk so, as I'm only a poor old servant; but remember, I was the one that brought up the lovely woman that we all mourn for, and I knew her before you did, sir, and I loved her as if she were my own child. When I put her in the coffin it was as if they had taken out a piece of my own heart. She was so young to die, so sweet, so good, and besides so marvelously beautiful! But I dried my tears as best I could, for I knew there was much to be done; and I said to myself that I would honor the memory of my mistress by doing always that which I knew she would have approved of. And now, sir, take this little orphan as you know your good wife would have done, as the daughter of her beloved sister...." She stopped suddenly, slightly abashed, as she realized that perhaps she had said a little too much for one in her station in life.
But more than her mere words, her voice vibrant with emotion had moved us all to the depths of our souls.
"You are a valiant woman with a great heart," my father said, as he took her hand. "I will write this very night and ask them to send the girl to us as soon as possible."
Then turning to us he added, "You no doubt know by this time of whom we have been speaking. Your cousin Paula has just lost her father. You will remember, her mother died some years ago, and we are her nearest relatives. Your uncle's friends have written me as to whether I will consent to receive Paula in our home, and in a few days, more or less, she will be among us."
We opened our mouths to ask a thousand questions, but father stopped us. "No, no! That is enough for now! Later I will tell you the details; besides, I must go out immediately. Go now to your various tasks and don't be thinking too much about this coming of your cousin."
That night I could not study my lessons. In fact, I could do nothing but think about Paula! I was not a student and was always at the bottom of the class. Louis, in the matter of study, was no better than I; but in the school, thanks to his brilliancy of mind, he always seemed to skin through somehow. Rosa was not a bit like her brother and sister; being a model of patience, application and obedience. I was very proud of my sister Rosa, and I loved and admired her, but I never had the slightest desire to imitate her.
After my father had gone, nothing was talked of except our cousin Paula. When would she come? What would she be like? Would she be content to be here among us? All these were questions which we could not answer as we knew very little about her. They had told me that Paula lived in the Waldensian Valley--a country where the inhabitants fed on black bread and lived in homes that were like stables. I had no idea just exactly where the mountains of Piedmont were. I had searched the map without being able to find the region, but I supposed it must be somewhere between France, Italy and Switzerland.
There was another thing I had found out; namely, that Paula was about my own age. What happiness! This fact I repeated over and over until Louis told me to keep quiet. This attitude on his part I put down as discontent because Paula wasn't a boy, so I kept repeating, "Paula's the same as me!"
"For mercy's sake, will you keep quiet, Lisita? Besides you have your grammar twisted as usual. It doesn't surprise me in the least that you're always at the foot of the class, if that's the way you study."
"You can talk to me as you like," I answered, "but when Paula gets here I'll never speak to you again, and I'll tell her not to say a word to you either. I am mighty glad that Paula's a girl and not a disagreeable boy like you."
"Oh, keep your Paula, much do I care!" replied Louis.
"Come, come," exclaimed Rosa, "what's the good of fighting over this poor girl Paula whom neither of you have ever seen!"
"It's Louis' fault!"
"No, it's Lisita's!"
"It's the two of you! If Paula could see the way you quarrel I'm sure she would not want to come. I hope she will love us all and we must all of us love her also, because she's not only an orphan, but she's a niece of our poor dear, dead mother."
Rosa knew well how to bring about peace. One word about our mother was enough.
"See here, Lisita," and Rosa drew me toward her, "I see that you haven't the slightest desire to study tonight, so close your book, and if you get up early tomorrow morning I'll help you. Do you know what I would do now if I were you."
"I'd go and see Catalina, You know that she does not like to be alone all of the afternoon, and I think Teresa has gone out If I didn't have so much to do I'd see her myself. Now, look out you don't make too much noise. Catalina has a terrible headache today."
"All right. I'm off!" I said.
The idea of visiting my oldest sister never made me very happy in those days. In fart, I hardly ever entered her room because it bored me terribly to be in the company of such a disagreeable invalid.
I remembered the time when Catalina was the liveliest and happiest person in the whole house, but unfortunately all this had changed in an instant. One day three years before, Catalina had fallen from the top of a high cherry-tree which she had climbed against the advice of Teresa. She was unconscious when we picked her up, and it seemed at first as if she would die as a result of the fall. After six months of cruel suffering, however, her youth had triumphed over death; but the big sister who had always been as happy and as lively as a bird was gone from us, and in her place remained a forlorn, unhappy girl with a poor twisted body, who at rare intervals sallied from her room a few steps with the aid of her crutches. Unfortunately her character had also suffered severely, for in spite of the tenderness and solicitude of my father who sought to satisfy her slightest desire, and in spite of the untiring care of Teresa and the patience and sweetness of Rosa, Catalina's life was one long complaint. Her room, with its white bed adorned with blue curtains and its magnificent view of the fields and mountains, was the most beautiful in the whole house. A pair of canaries sang for her in their respective corners; the finest fruits were always for her; and as she was a great reader, new books were continually brought in; but nothing seemed to have power to put a smile of satisfaction on her thin, wasted face.
Poor Catalina! It was certainly true--I didn't love her very much. I was so accustomed to see my sister in her invalid state that her pitiful condition didn't seem to move me, and she was always in such a bad humor that I only
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