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- Paula the Waldensian - 3/32 -
went to see her on rare occasions.
However, on this particular afternoon, I had, of course, a great desire to carry her the news of our cousin's coming, and so I gladly went to visit her; but forgetting all the warnings of Rosa I burst open the door like a gust of wind.
Catalina was lying with her face toward the wall with the curtains of the bed partly drawn, and a green shade had been placed over the cages of the two birds in order to stop their singing. Under other circumstances I would have prudently retired, thinking that Catalina, more irritated or sicker than usual, was endeavoring to sleep. Doubtless our old servant had come in to speak to her regarding Paula, and finding her apparently asleep had arranged things as I found them. She turned her head on hearing me come in and in a sharp tone exclaimed, "What a noise, Lisita! Can't you give me a single quiet moment!"
"You know I haven't been here all day!" I answered impatiently. "In fact, I haven't been here since yesterday morning, and besides, I forgot that Rosa told me that you had a headache."
"Well, you know it now!"
"So you wouldn't care to have me tell you the big news!"
"Well, I am going to tell you anyhow, because I can't keep it to myself any longer! Uncle John is dead!"
"Uncle John! Dead?"
"Yes, and I'm happy!"
"What do you mean, you're happy!"
"Well, I am happy!--not because Uncle John is dead, but because his little girl, Paula, who is just my age, is coming to live with us, so, of course, why shouldn't I be happy?"
"Well, you can just forget your 'happiness,' because Paula is _not_ going to live with us. I can tell you that right now!"
"And why not? Father said she was coming! You can ask Teresa, or Rosa, or Louis!"
"I am not going to ask anyone, but I tell you that Paula is _not_ coming here! No! and indeed, NO! I've got enough to put up with, with Louis and you! It seems as if you tear my head apart, for you quarrel from morning till night; and when you play it seems as if the house is coming down; and now suppose another bad-mannered little girl should come among us! But I tell you it _never_ shall happen!"
"You're not the one who orders things here!"
"Neither do you, you impertinent little thing."
"Now, don't get mad, Catalina!" I cried, as I burst into tears.
"You don't know what you are talking about. You do not realize that Paula has no one in the world to care for her. Teresa read us the letter out loud. I know I'm not a good girl and I'm almost as disagreeable as you are, but I am going to be good when Paula comes. You shall see. She will be my dearly beloved sister and she is almost exactly my age. Oh, I certainly shall love her so, and we shall always be together and we, we...."
"Keep quiet, Lisita. Your tongue runs like a mill-wheel. Besides, where did you get all these details?"
"It was this afternoon, just as we finished tea. They wrote to father, and father gave the letter to Teresa, and Teresa said that a little extra work didn't bother her, and so father said, 'All right, let her come!'"
"And I? Father said nothing about me?"
"Not that I remember."
"Oh," sobbed Catalina, "everything is done without me now! Because I am nothing more than an invalid, everything is arranged without consulting me! What difference does it make to you--who are able to laugh and run and play--if I suffer here without having a thing to say about what goes on in the house! How would you like to be in my place? Father never came to say one single word to me about the matter, and now without consulting me as to whether it would disturb me, they wish to bring another trouble to torment me more! But it shall not be, and the day that she comes I shall go to a hospital, because they do not want me here any more!"
Poor Catalina! She had passed a very bad day, and always on such days she would weep on the slightest pretext. I didn't care for her very much, but that day I pitied her with all my heart and I did what I could to calm her; for once her nerves were excited, nothing could console the poor unhappy girl. Besides, I was very much afraid that she would be able to change my father's purpose in regard to Paula. He, generally so severe, so cold, and insensible in his attitude toward us, obeyed the slightest wish of his eldest daughter. And if--if!--she succeeded in preventing Paula's coming I felt that I would never, never pardon Catalina! But now I tried to embrace her.
"Listen," I said; "father had to go out, but when he returns he will tell you the same thing that I have told you!"
But Catalina would not hear me. With her head hidden in the pillows, she continued crying.
I was desperate! As a rule it took a lot less than this to make Catalina worse. Catalina worse! And all my fault! What would my father say! And yet I had had no bad intentions. How could I have known that she would have received my good news in this way? Suddenly I had a brilliant idea. Leaving Catalina I ran to the kitchen where Teresa was preparing the vegetables for supper. "Teresa, come quickly," I cried with my eyes full of tears; "Catalina is making herself sick with crying."
"And why? I left her sleeping only a short time ago."
"Oh, yes, I know; but please come at once, Teresa! It's all my fault! I told her that Paula was coming and she is beside herself! But really and truly I had no idea that she would take it that way!"
Teresa jumped up quickly, saying under her breath, "What next?" and then to me, "You certainly are a troublesome youngster, my poor Lisita!"
"But Teresa, I vow to you...."
"Be quiet, and go back to Catalina's room! I'll be there as soon as I can!"
I left the kitchen well content. Teresa was not full of pretty phrases but she had a heart of gold, and I knew that somehow or other she would be able to fix things with Catalina. I found Rosa already in Catalina's room on my return, trying in vain to calm her. She turned to me.
"What on earth has happened? I heard Catalina sobbing, clear at the other end of the house. Are you responsible for this?"
"No, no, it wasn't I; it was Paula."
I tried to explain, but at this minute Teresa entered, bringing with her a plateful of delicious apples.
"Come, come, Catalina!" and her deep, sonorous voice seemed like soothing balm, as her presence appeared to fill the room. "What on earth are you crying about? It is but a short moment ago that I secured permission from your papa to read you a letter which he has just received from Italy, and I went out to pick up some of your favorite apples, the first of the season, and here I come to find you crying!"
Catalina became a little calmer hearing the word "letter," for, to the poor confined invalid, a letter from abroad was a great event. Nevertheless, between her sobs she remarked, "Is it a letter about this terrible 'Paula' that they are talking about?"
"Yes," answered Teresa, with that soothing voice of hers. "It's a letter that tells us a bit about a niece of your poor mother."
Catalina calmed down completely. If the memory of our mother still lived in the heart of her other daughters it had first place above all else with Catalina.
"Now, read it to me, Catalina," said Teresa. "You can do so much better than I can in the reading line, and it will sound so much better from your lips than from my poor stumbling ones. Wait till I fix up the pillows, and don't cry any more. And now your headache is better, isn't it?"
"It still pains terribly, Teresa. Let Rosa read it."
Rosa took the letter, and read in her clear, sweet voice the lines that had so stirred us all.
There were but few details. Our Uncle John had died; so wrote the pastor of the little church in that far-off Waldensian Valley. He had died as he had lived--a real Christian. He had no near relatives, it appeared; and the rest of the family had gone to America two years before. Paula, therefore, was alone. Just before breathing his last, my uncle had expressed the desire to leave his daughter in the care of our father whom he had never known, but of whom he had heard nothing but good. Beside all this he had left his daughter in the hands of God, the loving Father of all orphans, praying Him to guide and direct in the whole affair. His last prayer had been for us; asking God to bless our family that we might all be guided into the straight and narrow Way that leadeth unto life eternal. Then followed certain details relative to a small inheritance that Paula possessed, and the prayer of the Pastor himself that the temporal and spiritual happiness of the little orphan might be maintained.
"Is that all?" asked Catalina.
"Yes," said Rosa; "that is the end of the letter."
"Poor little thing!"
There was a long silence. I think Catalina was thinking of her mother, for her face had softened for once.
Teresa sat with her large agile fingers flying--those strong fingers that were never idle;--the metallic sound of her needles alternating with the happy song of the canaries, from whose cages the curtains had again been removed.
Never in my life had I lingered very long to observe Catalina, but this afternoon I could not help but notice how pale and delicate she really was.
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