"Wouldn't you like to be loved by your granddaughter?" she asked pleadingly.
The blind man rose impatiently.
"I tell you she can never be anything to me," he cried. "I hate her as I hate her mother. The woman took my son from me and she keeps him from me. If she had not bewitched him he would have been back long before this. She has been everything to him while I, his father, have been nothing."
He strode back and forth, carried away with his anger. She had never seen him like this. Suddenly he stopped before her.
"Go to your room," he said almost harshly, "and never speak of those creatures to me again; besides, what right have you to mix up in this? Who told you to speak to me in such a manner?"
For a moment she was dumbfounded, then she said:
"Oh, no one, sir, I assure you. I just put myself into your little granddaughter's place, that is all."
He softened somewhat, but he continued still in a severe voice: "In the future do not speak on this subject; you see it is painful for me and you must not annoy me."
"I beg your pardon," she said, her voice full of tears; "certainly I ought not to have spoken so."
THE BLIND MAN'S GRIEF
Monsieur Vulfran advertised in the principal newspapers of Calcutta, Dacca, Bombay and London for his son. He offered a reward of forty pounds to anyone who could furnish any information, however slight it might be, about Edmond Paindavoine. The information must, however, be authentic. Not wishing to give his own address, which might have brought to him all sorts of correspondence more or less dishonest, he put the matter into the hands of his banker at Amiens.
Numerous letters were received, but very few were serious; the greater number came from detectives who guaranteed to find the person they were searching for if the expenses for the first steps necessary could be sent them. Other letters promised everything without any foundation whatever upon which they based their promises. Others related events that had occurred five, ten, twelve years previous; no one kept to the time stated in the advertisement, that was the last three years.
Perrine read or translated all these letters for the blind man. He would not be discouraged at the meagre indications sent him.
"It is only by continued advertising that we shall get results," he said always. Then again he advertised.
Finally, one day a letter from Bosnia gave them some information which might lead to something. It was written in bad English, and stated that if the advertiser would place the forty pounds promised with a banker at Serajevo the writer would furnish authentic information concerning M. Edmond Paindavoine going back to the month of November of the preceding year. If this proposition was acceptable, the reply was to be sent to N. 917, General Delivery, Serajevo.
This letter seemed to give M. Vulfran so much relief and joy that it was a confession of what his fears had been.
For the first time since he had commenced his investigations, he spoke of his son to his two nephews and Talouel.
"I am delighted to tell you that at last I have news of my son," he said. "He was in Bosnia last November."
There was great excitement as the news was spread through the various towns and villages. As usual under such circumstances, it was exaggerated.
"M. Edmond is coming back. He'll be home shortly," went from one to another.
"It's not possible!" cried some.
"If you don't believe it," they were told, "you've only to look at Talouel's face and M. Vulfran's nephews."
Yet there were some who would not believe that the exile would return. The old man had been too hard on him. He had not deserved to be sent away to India because he had made a few debts. His own family had cast him aside, so he had a little family of his own out in India. Why should he come back? And then, even if he was in Bosnia or Turkey, that was not to say that he was on his way to Maraucourt. Coming from India to France, why should he have to go to Bosnia? It was not on the route.
This remark came from Bendit, who, with his English coolheadedness, looked at things only from a practical standpoint, in which sentiment played no part. He thought that just because everyone wished for the son and heir to return, it was not enough to bring him back. The French could wish a thing and believe it, but he was English, he was, and he would not believe that he was coming back until he saw him there with his own eyes!
Day by day the blind man grew more impatient to see his son. Perrine could not bear to hear him talk of his return as a certainty. Many times she tried to tell him that he might be disappointed. One day, when she could bear it no longer, she begged him in her sweet voice not to count too much upon seeing his son for fear something might still keep him away.
The blind man asked her what she meant.
"It is so terrible to hear the worst when one has been expecting the best," she said brokenly. "If I say this it is because that is just what happened to me. We had thought and hoped so much when my father was ill that he would get better, but we lost him, and poor mama and I did not know how to bear it. We would not think that he might die."
"Ah, but my boy is alive, and he will be here soon. He will come back to me very soon," said the old man in a firm voice.
The next day the banker from Amiens called at the factory. He was met at the steps by Talouel, who did all in his power to get the first information which he knew the banker was bringing. At first his attitude was very obsequious, but when he saw that his advances were repulsed, and that the visitor insisted upon seeing his employer at once, he pointed rudely in the direction of M. Vulfran's office and said:
"You will find him over there in that room," and then turned and went off with his hands in his pockets.
The banker knocked on the door indicated.
"Come in," called out M. Vulfran, in answer to his knock.
"What, you ... you at Maraucourt!" he exclaimed when he saw his visitor.
"Yes, I had some business to attend to at Picquigny, and I came on here to bring you some news received from Bosnia."
Perrine sat at her little table. She had gone very white; she seemed like one struck dumb.
"Well?" asked M. Vulfran.
"It is not what you hoped, what we all hoped," said the banker quietly.
"You mean that that fellow who wrote just wanted to get hold of the forty pounds."
"Oh, no; he seems an honest man...."
"Then he knows nothing?"
"He does, but unfortunately his information is only too true."
"Unfortunately!" gasped the blind man. This was the first word of doubt that he had uttered. "You mean," he added, "that they have no more news of him since last November?"
"There is no news since then. The French Consul at Serajevo, Bosnia, has sent me this information:
"'Last November your son arrived at Serajevo practising the trade of a strolling photographer....'"
"What do you mean?" exclaimed M. Vulfran. "A strolling photographer!... My son?"
"He had a wagon," continued the banker, "a sort of caravan in which he traveled with his wife and child. He used to take pictures on the market squares where they stopped...."
The banker paused and glanced at some papers he held in his hand.
"Oh, you have something to read, haven't you?" said the blind man as he heard the paper rustle. "Read, it will be quicker."
"He plied the trade of a photographer," continued the banker, consulting his notes, "and at the beginning of November he left Serajevo for Travnik, where he fell ill. He became very ill...."
"My God!" cried the blind man. "Oh, God...."
M. Vulfran had clasped his hands; he was trembling from head to foot, as though a vision of his son was standing before him.
"You must have courage," said the banker, gently. "You need all your courage. Your son...."
"He is dead!" said the blind man.
"That is only too true," replied the banker. "All the papers are authentic. I did not want to have any doubt upon the matter, and that was why I cabled to our Consul at Serajevo. Here is his reply; it leaves no doubt."
But the old man did not appear to be listening. He sat huddled up in his big chair, his head drooped forward on his chest. He gave no sign of life. Perrine, terrified, wondered if he were dead.
Then suddenly he pulled himself together and the tears began to run down his wrinkled cheeks. He brushed them aside quickly and touched the electric bell which communicated with Talouel's and his nephew's offices.
The call was so imperative that they all ran to the office together.
"You are there?" asked the blind man; "Talouel, Theodore and Casimir?"
All three replied together.
"I have just learned of the death of my son," said their employer. "Stop work in all the factories immediately. Tomorrow the funeral services will be held in the churches at Maraucourt, Saint-Pipoy and all the other villages."
"Oh, uncle!" cried both the nephews.
He stopped them with uplifted hand.
"I wish to be alone ... leave me," was all he said.
Everyone left the room but Perrine. She alone remained.
"Aurelie, are you there?" asked the blind man.
She replied with a sob.
"Let us go home," he said.
As was his habit, he placed his hand on her shoulder, and it was like this that they passed through the crowd of workers who streamed from the factory. As they stood aside for him to pass, all who saw him wondered if he would survive this blow. He, who usually walked so upright, was bent like a tree that the storm has broken.
Could he survive this shock? Perrine asked herself this question with even greater agony, for it was she and she alone who knew how his great frame was trembling. His shaking hands grasped her shoulder convulsively, and without him uttering one word little Perrine knew how deeply her grandfather was smitten.
After she had guided him into his study he sent her away.
"Explain why I wish to be left alone. No one is to come in here. No one is to speak to me....
"And I refused to believe you," he murmured as she was leaving him.
"Oh, please; if you will let me...."
"Leave me," he said roughly.
Perrine closed the door softly.
AN UNRESPECTED FUNERAL
There was considerable bustle and excitement at the chateau all that evening. First M. and Mme. Stanislas Paindavoine, who had received a telegram from Theodore, arrived. Then M. and Mme. Bretoneux, sent for by Casimir, came. After that came Mme. Bretoneux's two daughters, their husbands and children. No one wished to miss the funeral service for poor dear Edmond.
Besides, this was the decisive moment for clever manoeuvring. What a disaster if this big industry should fall into the hands of one so incapable as Theodore! What a misfortune if Casimir took charge! Neither side thought that a partnership could be possible, and the two cousins share alike. Each wanted all for himself.
Both Mme. Bretoneux and Mme. Paindavoine had ignored Perrine since their arrival. They had given her to understand that they did not require her services any longer.
She sat in her room hoping that M. Vulfran would send for her so that she could help him into the church, as she had done every Sunday since William had gone. But she waited in vain. When the bells, which had been tolling since the evening before, announced mass, she saw him get up into his carriage leaning on his brother's arm, while his sister and sister-in-law, with the members of their families, took their places in other carriages.
She had no time to lose, for she had to walk. She hurried off.
After she had left the house over which Death had spread its shroud, she was surprised to notice as she hastened through the village that the taverns had taken on their Sunday air. The men drank and laughed and the women chatted at their doors, while the children played in the street. Perrine wondered if none of them were going to attend the service.
Upon entering the church, where she had been afraid that she would not find room, she saw that it was almost empty. The bereaved family sat in the choir; here and there was some village authority, a tradesman and the heads of the factories. Very few of the working men and women were present; they had not thought to come and join their prayers to those of their employer.
Perrine took a seat beside Rosalie and her grandmother, who was in deep mourning.
"Alas! my poor little Edmond," murmured the old nurse, wiping her eyes. "What did M. Vulfran say?"
But Perrine was too overcome to reply. The services commenced.
As she left the church, Mlle. Belhomme came up to her, and, like Francoise, wanted to question her about M. Vulfran. Perrine told her that he had not spoken to her since the evening before.
"As I saw him kneeling there so crushed and broken for the first time, I was pleased that he was blind," said the governess sadly.
"Why?" asked Perrine.
"Because he could not see how few people came to the church. What indifference his men have shown! If he could have seen that empty church it would have added to his grief."
"I think he must have known how few there were there," said Perrine. "His ears take the place of his eyes, and that empty silence could not deceive him."
"Poor man," murmured Mlle. Belhomme; "and yet...."
She paused. Then, as she was not in the habit of holding anything back, she went on: "And yet it will be a great lesson to him. You know, my child, you cannot expect others to share your sorrows if you are not willing to share theirs.
"M. Vulfran gives his men what he considers their due," she continued, in a lower voice. "He is just, but that is all. He has never been a father to his men. He is all for business, business only. What a lot of good he could have done, however, not only here, but everywhere, if he had wished, by setting an example. Had he been more to his men you may be sure that the church would not have been as empty as it was today."
Perhaps that was true, but how it hurt Perrine to hear this from the lips of her governess, of whom she was so fond. If anyone else had said so she might not have felt it so deeply. Yes, undoubtedly it was too true.
They had been walking as they talked, and had now reached the schools where Mlle. Belhomme lived.
"Come in and we'll have luncheon together," she said. She was thinking that her pupil would not be allowed to take her accustomed place at the family table.
"Oh, thank you," said Perrine; "but M. Vulfran might need me."
"Well, in that case you had better go back," said Mlle. Belhomme.
When she reached the chateau she saw that M. Vulfran had no need of her, that he was not even thinking of her. Bastien, whom she met on the stairs, told her that when he came back from the church he had gone to his own room and locked himself in, forbidding anyone to enter.
"He won't even sit down on a day like this with his family," said Bastien, "and they are all going after luncheon. I don't think he even wants to say goodbye to them. Lord help us! What will become of us? Oh, poor master!"
"What can I do?" asked Perrine.
"You can do a great deal. The master believes in you, and he's mighty fond of you."
"Mighty fond of me?" echoed Perrine.
"Yes, and it's I as says it," said the butler. "He likes you a whole lot."
As Bastien had said, all the family left after luncheon. Perrine stayed in her room, but M. Vulfran did not send for her. Just before she went to bed, Bastien came to tell her that his master wished her to accompany him the next morning at the usual hour.
"He wants to get back to work, but will he be able?" said the old butler. "It will be better for him if he can. Work means life for him."
The next day at the usual hour Perrine was waiting for M. Vulfran. With bent back he came forward, guided by Bastien. The butler made a sign to her that his master had passed a bad night.
"Is Aurelie there?" asked the blind man in a changed voice, a voice low and weak, like that of a sick child.
Perrine went forward quickly.
"I am here, M. Vulfran," she said.
"Let us get into the carriage, Aurelie," he said.
As soon as he had taken his place beside Perrine his head drooped on his chest. He said not a word.
At the foot of the office steps Talouel was there ready to receive him and help him to alight.
"I suppose you felt strong enough to come?" he said, in a sympathetic voice which contrasted with the flash in his eyes.
"I did not feel at all strong, but I came because I thought that I ought to come," said his employer.
"That is what I meant ... I...."
M. Vulfran stopped him and told Perrine to guide him to his office.
The mail, which had accumulated in two days, was read, but the blind man made no comments on the correspondence. It was as though he were deaf or asleep. The heads of the factory then came in to discuss an important question that had to be settled that day. When the immediate business was settled Perrine was left alone with the blind man. He was silent.
Time passed; he did not move. She had often seen him sit still, but on such occasions, from the expression on his face, she had known that he was following his work as though he were watching with his eyes. He listened to the whistle of the engines, the rolling of the trucks; he was attentive to every sound and seemed to know exactly what was going on, but now he seemed as though he were turned into a statue. There was no expression in his face and he was so silent. He did not seem to be breathing. Perrine was overcome by a sort of terror. She moved uneasily in her chair; she did not dare speak to him.
Suddenly he put his two hands over his face and, as though unaware that anyone was present, he cried: "My God! my God! you have forsaken me! Oh, Lord, what have I done that you should forsake me!"
Then the heavy silence fell again. Perrine trembled when she heard his cry, although she could not grasp the depth of his despair.
Everything that this man had attempted had been a success; he had triumphed over his rivals; but now, with one blow, that which he wanted most had been snatched from him. He had been waiting for his son; their meeting, after so many years of absence, he had pictured to himself, and then....
"My God," cried the blind man again, "why have you taken him from me?"
THE ANGEL OF REFORM
As the days passed M. Vulfran became very weak. At last he was confined to his room with a serious attack of bronchitis, and the entire management of the works was given over to Talouel, who was triumphant.
When he recovered he was in such a state of apathy that it was alarming. They could not rouse him; nothing seemed to interest him, not even his business. Previously they had feared the effect a shock would have on his system, but now the doctors desired it, for it seemed that only a great shock could drag him out of this terrible condition. What could they do?
After a time he returned to his business, but he scarcely took account of what Talouel had done during his absence. His manager, however, had been too clever and shrewd to take any steps that his employer would not have taken himself.
Every day Perrine took him to his various factories, but the drives were made in silence now. Frequently he did not reply to the remarks she made from time to time, and when he reached the works he scarcely listened to what his men had to say.
"Do what you think best," he said always. "Arrange the matter with Talouel."
How long would this apathy last?
One afternoon, when old Coco was bringing them back to Maraucourt, they heard a bell ringing.
"Stop," he said; "I think that's the fire alarm."
Perrine stopped the horse.
"Yes, it's a fire," he said, listening. "Do you see anything?"
"I can see a lot of black smoke over by the poplars on the left," replied Perrine.
"On the left? That is the way to the factory."
"Yes; shall I drive that way?" asked Perrine.
"Yes," replied M. Vulfran, indifferently.
It was not until they reached the village that they knew where the fire was.
"Don't hurry, M. Vulfran," called out a peasant; "the fire ain't in your house. It's La Tiburce's house that's on fire."
La Tiburce was a drunken creature who minded little babies who were too young to be taken to the creche. She lived in a miserable tumble-down house near the schools.
"Let us go there," said M. Vulfran.
They had only to follow the crowd, for the people, when they saw the flames and smoke rising, were running excitedly to the spot where the fire was. Before reaching the scene Perrine had to stop several times for fear of running someone down. Nothing in the world would have made the people get out of their way. Finally M. Vulfran got out of the carriage and, guided by Perrine, walked through the crowd. As they neared the entrance to the house, Fabry, wearing a helmet, for he was chief of the firemen, came up to them.
"We've got it under control," he said, "but the house is entirely burnt, and what's worse, several children, five or six, perhaps, are lost. One is buried beneath, two have been suffocated, and we don't know where the other three are."
"How did it happen?" asked M. Vulfran.
"La Tiburce was asleep, drunk. She is still in that condition. The biggest of the children were playing with the matches. When the fire began to flare up some of the children got out, and La Tiburce woke up. She is so drunk she got out herself but left the little ones in the cradle."
The sound of cries and loud talking could be heard in the yard. M. Vulfran wanted to go in.
"Don't go in there, sir," said Fabry. "The mothers whose two children were suffocated are carrying on pretty badly."
"Who are they?"
"Two women who work in your factory."
"I must speak to them."
Leaning on Perrine's shoulder, he told her to guide him. Preceded by Fabry, who made way for them, they went into the yard where the firemen were turning the hose on the house as the flames burst forth in a crackling sound.
In a far-off corner several women stood round the two mothers who were crying. Fabry brushed aside the group. M. Vulfran went up to the bereaved parents, who sat with their dead children on their knees. Then one of the women, who thought perhaps that a supreme help had come, looked up with a gleam of hope in her eyes. When she recognized M. Vulfran she raised her arm to him threateningly.
"Ah," she cried, "come and see for yourself what they do to our babies while we are sweating and killing ourselves for you. Can you give us back their lives? Oh, my little boy."
She burst into sobs as she bent over her child.
M. Vulfran hesitated for a moment; then he turned to Fabry and said:
"You are right; let us go."
They returned to the offices. After a time Talouel came to tell his employer that out of the six children that they had thought were dead, three had been found in the homes of neighbors, where they had been carried when the fire first broke out. The burial for the other three tiny victims was to take place the next day.
When Talouel had gone, Perrine, who had been very thoughtful, decided to speak to M. Vulfran.
"Are you not going to the burial service of these little babies?" she asked. Her trembling voice betrayed her emotion.
"Why should I go?" asked M. Vulfran.
"Because that would be the most dignified answer you could give to what that poor woman said."
"Did my work people come to the burial service of my son?" asked M. Vulfran, coldly.
"They did not share your sorrow," said Perrine gravely, "but if you share theirs now they will be touched."
"You don't know how ungrateful the workingman is."
"Ungrateful! For what? The money they receive? They consider that they have a right to the money they earn. It is theirs. Would they show ingratitude if an interest was taken in them, if a little friendly help was given them? Perhaps it would not be the same, do you think so? Friendship creates friendship. One often loves when one knows one is loved, and it seems to me that when we are friendly to others, we make friends ourselves. It means so much to lighten the burdens of the poor, but how much more is it to lighten their sorrows ... by helping to share them."
It seemed to her that she had still so much to say on this subject, but M. Vulfran did not reply. He did not even appear to be listening to her, and she was afraid to say more. Later she might make another attempt.
As they left the office M. Vulfran turned to Talouel, who was standing on the steps, and said:
"Tell the priest to arrange a suitable burial for the three children. It will be at my expense and I shall be there."
"And let everyone know," continued M. Vulfran, "that all who wish to go to the church tomorrow, can take the time off. This fire is a great misfortune."
"We are not responsible for it," said Talouel.
"Not directly ... no," said M. Vulfran.
Perrine had another surprise the next morning. After the mail had been opened and the replies dictated, M. Vulfran detained Fabry and said: "I want you to start for Rouen. I think you can spare the time. I have heard that they have built a model creche there. It is not built by the town, but someone has had it built to the memory of one whom they have lost. I want you to see how this is made. Study it in all its details—the construction, heating and ventilation and the expense of keeping it up. In three months we must have a creche at the entrance of all my factories. I don't want such a calamity as that which occurred yesterday to take place again. I rely upon you and the responsibility is upon you now."
That evening Perrine told the great news to her governess, who was delighted. While they were talking about it, M. Vulfran came into the room.
"Mademoiselle," he said, "I have come to ask a favor of you in the name of all the village. It is a big favor. It may mean a great sacrifice on your part. This is it."
In a few words he outlined the request he had to make. It was that mademoiselle should send in her resignation at the schools and take charge of the five creches which he was going to build. He knew of no one who was capable of taking on their shoulders such a big burden. He would donate a creche to each village and endow it with sufficient capital to keep up its maintenance.
Although Mlle. Belhomme loved to teach, and it would be indeed a sacrifice for her to give up her school, she felt, after she had talked with the blind man, that it was here where her duty lay. It was indeed a great work that she was called upon to do, and she would enter upon her task with all the enthusiasm of which her big heart was capable.
"This is a great thing you are doing, Monsieur Vulfran," she said, with tears in her eyes, "and I will do all I can to make this work a success."
"It is your pupil one must thank for it," said the blind man, "not I. Her words and suggestions have awakened something in my heart. I have stepped out on a new road. I am only at the first steps. It is nothing compared with what I intend to do."
"Oh, please," said Perrine, her eyes bright with delight and pride, "if you still want to do something...."
"What is it?" he asked with a smile.
"I want to take you somewhere ... tonight."
"What do you mean? Where do you want to take me?" asked the blind man, mystified.
"To a place where your presence only for a few moments will bring about extraordinary results," said Perrine.
"Well, can't you tell me where this mysterious place is?" asked M. Vulfran.
"But if I tell you, your visit will not have the same effect. It will be a failure. It will be a fine evening and warm, and I am sure that you will not take cold. Please say you will go!"
"I think one could have confidence in her," said Mademoiselle Belhomme, "although her request seems a little strange and childish."
"Well," said M. Vulfran, indulgently, "I'll do as you wish, Aurelie. Now at what hour are we to start on this adventure?"
"The later it is the better it will be," said Perrine.
During the evening he spoke several times of the outing they were to have, but Perrine would not explain.
"Do you know, little girl, you have aroused my curiosity?" he said at last.
"I am glad you are interested," she said gravely. "There is so much that can be done in the future. Do not look back to the past any more."
"The future is empty for me," said the blind man bitterly.
"Oh, no; it is not," said Perrine, lifting her lovely face to his. Her eyes were shining with a beautiful light. "It will not be empty if you think of others. When one is a child, and not very happy, one often thinks that if a wonderful fairy came to them, of what beautiful things they would ask. But if one is the fairy, or rather the magician oneself, and can do all the wonderful things alone, wouldn't it be splendid to use one's power?..."
The evening passed. Several times the blind man asked if it were not time to start, but Perrine delayed as long as possible.
At last she said that she thought they could start. The night was warm, no breeze, no mists. The atmosphere was a trifle heavy and the sky dark.
When they reached the village it was all quiet. All seemed to sleep. Not a light shone from the windows.
The dark night made no difference to the blind man. As they walked along the road from the chateau he knew exactly where he was.
"We must be nearing Francoise's house," he said, after they had walked a little distance.
"That is just where we are going," said Perrine. "We are there now. Let me take your hand and guide you, and please don't speak. We have some stairs to go up, but they are quite easy and straight. When we get to the top of these stairs I shall open a door and we shall go into a room for just one moment."
"What do you want me to see ... when I can't see anything?" he said.
"There will be no need for you to see," replied Perrine.
"Then why come?"
"I want you here," said Perrine earnestly. "Here are the stairs. Now step up, please."
They climbed up the stairs and Perrine opened a door and gently drew M. Vulfran inside a room and closed the door again.
They stood in a suffocating, evil-smelling room.
"Who is there?" asked a weary voice.
Pressing his hand, Perrine warned M. Vulfran not to speak.
The same voice spoke:
"Get into bed, La Noyelle. How late you are."
This time M. Vulfran clasped Perrine's hand in a sign for them to leave the place.
She opened the door and they went down, while a murmur of voices accompanied them. When they reached the street M. Vulfran spoke: "You wanted me to know what that room was the first night when you slept there?"
"I wanted you to know what kind of a place all the women who work for you have to sleep in. They are all alike in Maraucourt and the other villages. You have stood in one of these dreadful rooms; all the others are like it. Think of your women and children, your factory hands, who are breathing that poisoned air. They are slowly dying. They are almost all weak and sick."
M. Vulfran was silent. He did not speak again, neither did Perrine. When they entered the hall he bade her good night, and guided by Bastien, he went to his own room.
GRANDFATHER FINDS PERRINE
One year had passed since Perrine had arrived at Maraucourt on that radiant Sunday morning. What a miserable lonely little girl she had been then.
The day was just as radiant now, but what a change in Perrine, and, be it said, in the whole village also. She was now a lovely girl of fifteen. She knew she was loved and loved for herself, and this is what gave the deep look of happiness to her eyes.
And the village! No one would have recognized it now. There were new buildings, pretty cottages, and a hospital commanding a view of the surrounding country. Near the factories were two handsome red brick buildings. These were the creches where the little children, whose mothers were working in the factories, were kept. All the little children had their meals there, and many of them slept there. It was a home for them.
M. Vulfran had bought up all the old houses, the tumble-down hovels and huts, and had built new cottages in their places. There was a large restaurant built where the men and women could get a dinner for eleven cents, the meal consisting of a soup, stew or roast, bread and cider.
Every little cottage, for which the tenant paid one hundred francs a year, had its own tiny garden in which to grow vegetables for the family.
In the road leading to the chateau there was now a fine recreation ground, which was greatly patronized after the factories had closed. There were merry-go-rounds, swings, bowling alleys and a stand for the musicians who played every Saturday and Sunday, and of course on every holiday. This public park of amusement was used by the people of all five villages. Monsieur Vulfran had thought it better to have one place of reunion and recreation. If his people all met together to enjoy their leisure hours, it would establish good relations and a bond of friendship between them. At the end of the grounds there was a fine library with a reading and writing room.
M. Vulfran's relations thought that he had gone mad. Did he intend to ruin himself? That is to say, ruin them? Some steps ought to be taken to prevent him from spending his fortune in this manner. His fondness for that girl was a proof that he was losing his mind. That girl did not know what she was doing! All their animosity was centered on her. What did it matter to her that his fortune was being thrown away? But if Perrine had all the relations against her, she knew that she had M. Vulfran's friendship, and the family doctor, Doctor Ruchon, Mlle. Belhomme and Fabry all adored her. Since the doctor had seen that it was the "little girl" who had been the means of his patient exerting this wonderful moral and intellectual energy, his attitude to her expressed the greatest respect and affection. In the doctor's eyes, Perrine was a wonderful little girl.
"She can do a great deal more than I can," he said, shaking his gray head.
And Mlle. Belhomme, how proud she was of her pupil! As to Fabry, he was on the best of terms with her. He had been so closely connected with her in the good work that had been done, for Fabry had superintended everything.
It was half-past twelve. Fabry had not yet arrived. M. Vulfran, usually so calm, was getting impatient. Luncheon was over and he had gone into his study with Perrine; every now and again he walked to the window and listened.
"The train must be late," he murmured.
Perrine wanted to keep him away from the window, for there were many things going on outside in the park about which she did not wish him to know. With unusual activity, the gardeners were putting great pots of flowers on the steps and in front of the house. Flags were flying from the recreation grounds, which could be seen from the windows.
At last the wheels of a carriage were heard on the drive.
"There's Fabry," said M. Vulfran. His voice expressed anxiety, but pleasure at the same time.
Fabry came in quickly. He also appeared to be in a somewhat excited state. He gave a look at Perrine which made her feel uneasy without knowing why.
"I got your telegram," said M. Vulfran, "but it was so vague. I want to be sure. Speak out."
"Shall I speak before mademoiselle?" asked Fabry, glancing at Perrine.
"Yes, if it is as you say."
It was the first time that Fabry had asked if he could speak before Perrine. In the state of mind in which she was suddenly thrown, this precaution only made her the more anxious.
"The person whom we had lost trace of," said Fabry, without looking at Perrine, "came on to Paris. There she died. Here is a copy of the death certificate. It is in the name of Marie Doressany, widow of Edmond Vulfran Paindavoine."
With trembling hands the blind man took the paper.
"Shall I read it to you?" asked Fabry.
"No, if you have verified the names we will attend to that later. Go on."
"I not only got the certificate; I wanted to question the man whom they call Grain-of-Salt. She died in a room in his house. Then I saw all those who were present at the poor woman's funeral. There was a street singer called the Baroness and an old shoemaker called Carp. It was the miserable existence which she had been forced to live that had finally killed her. I even saw the doctor who attended her, Dr. Cendrier. He wanted her to go to the hospital, but she would not be parted from her daughter. Finally, to complete my investigations, they sent me to a woman who buys rags and bones. Her name is La Rouquerie. I could not see her until yesterday, as she had been out in the country."
Fabry paused. Then for the first time he turned to Perrine and bowed respectfully.
"I saw Palikare, mademoiselle," he said. "He is looking very well."
Perrine had risen to her feet. For some moments she stood listening, dazed. Then her eyes filled with tears.
"I then had to find out what had become of the little daughter," continued Fabry. "This ragpicker told me that she had met her in the Chantilly woods and that she was dying of hunger. It was her own donkey that she sold to the ragpicker who found her."
"Tell me," cried M. Vulfran, turning his sightless eyes towards Perrine, who was trembling from head to foot, "why this little girl did not say who she was? You understand how deeply a little girl can feel, so can you explain this?"
Perrine took a few steps towards him.
"Tell me why she does not come into my arms ... her grandfather's arms."
"Oh, grandpapa," cried Perrine, throwing her arms about his neck.
THE GRATEFUL PEOPLE
Fabry had left the room, leaving the grandfather and his granddaughter together. For a long time the old man and the girl sat with their arms about each other. They only spoke now and again, just to exchange a word of affection.
"My little granddaughter ... my boy's little girl," murmured the blind man, stroking her curls.
"My grandpapa," murmured Perrine, rubbing her soft cheek against his.
"Why didn't you tell me who you were?" he asked at last.
"But didn't I try several times?" replied Perrine. "Do you remember what you said to me the last time I spoke of dear mother and myself. You said: 'Understand, never speak to me again of those wretched creatures.'"
"But could I guess that you were my granddaughter?" he said.
"If I had come straight to you, don't you think you would have driven me away and not have listened to me?" asked Perrine.
"Ah," said the blind man, sadly, "who knows what I would have done!"
"I thought so," said Perrine, "and I thought it best not to let you know me until, like mama said, 'you would get to love me.'"
"And you have waited so long, and you had so many proofs of my affection."
"But was it the affection of a grandfather? I did not dare think so," said Perrine.
"When I began to suspect that you were my son's child, I then quickly got positive proofs, and I gave you every chance to tell me that you were. Finally I employed Fabry, who, with his investigations, forced you to throw yourself into my arms. If you had spoken sooner, my little darling, you would have spared me many doubts."
"Yes," said Perrine sweetly, "but we are so happy now, and doesn't that prove that what I did was all for the best?"
"Well, all is well. We will leave it at that. Now tell me all about your father ... my boy."
"I cannot speak to you of my father without speaking of my mother," said Perrine gravely. "They both loved me so much, and I loved them just the same."
"My little girl," said the blind man, "what Fabry has just told me of her has touched me deeply. She refused to go to the hospital where she might have been cured because she would not leave you alone in Paris...."
"Oh, yes; you would have loved her," cried Perrine; "my darling mother."
"Talk to me about her," said the old man, "about them both."
"Yes," said Perrine; "I will make you know her and then you will love her."
Perrine told about their life before they lost all their money; then about their travels through the various countries and the wanderings over the mountains; then of her father's illness and his death, and how she and her sick mother journeyed through France with the hope that they could reach Maraucourt in time before the sick woman died.
While they were talking they could hear vague sounds outside in the garden.
"What is the matter out there?" asked M. Vulfran. Perrine went to the window. The lawns and drive were black with a crowd of men, women and children. They were dressed in their Sunday clothes; many of them carried banners and flags. This crowd, between six and seven thousand people, reached outside the grounds to the public park, and the murmur of their voices had reached the ears of the blind man and had turned his attention from Perrine's story, great though it was.
"What is it?" he asked.
"It is your birthday today," said Perrine, smiling, "and all your men are here to celebrate it and to thank you for all you have done for them and their families."
The blind man walked to the window as though he could see them. He was recognized and a murmur ran through the crowd.
"Mon Dieu," he murmured, "how terrible they would be if they were against us." For the first time he realized the strength of the masses which he controlled.
"Yes," said Perrine, "but they are with us because we are with them."
"Yes, little girl, and it is all due to you," he replied. "This is very different from the day when the service for your dear father was held in that empty church."
"Yes, they are all here now," said Perrine, "and this is the Order of the Day, grandpapa dear: I am to guide you to the steps exactly at two o'clock. From there everyone will be able to see you. A man representing each village where you have your factories will come up the steps, and fatherly old Gathoye in the name of all is to make a speech."
At this moment the clock struck two.
"Now give me your hand, grandpapa, dear," said Perrine.
They reached the top of the steps and a great cheer broke out. Then the dear old Gathoye, who was the oldest employe, came forward alone. He was followed by the five delegates. Ten times the old man had been made to go over his speech that morning.
"Monsieur Vulfran, sir," he began, "it is to wish you ... it is to congratulate you ... to congratulate you on...."
Here he stopped short and began gesticulating with his hands, and the crowd, who saw his eloquent gestures, thought that he making an elaborate speech.
After some vain efforts, during which he scratched his head several times, he said: "This is how it is: I had a fine speech all ready, but I've gone and forgot all I got to say. I had to congratulate you and thank you in the name of all from the bottom of our hearts...."
He raised his hand solemnly.
"I swear that's so on the faith of your oldest employe, Gathoye."
Although the speech was very incoherent, nevertheless it touched M. Vulfran deeply. With his hand on Perrine's shoulder, he moved forward to the balustrade. There all could see him from below.
"My friends," he called out in a loud voice, "your sincere kind wishes give me the greatest pleasure, all the more so as you bring them to me on the happiest day of my life, the day when I have found my little granddaughter, the daughter of my only son whom I have lost. You know her; you have seen her at the factory. She will go on with the work we have already begun, and I promise you that your future, and your children's future, is in good hands."
Thereupon he leaned down towards Perrine and before she could protest he lifted her up in his arms that were still strong, and presented her to the crowd, then kissed her tenderly.
Then a deafening cheer rang out. It was continued for several minutes. Cheers came from the mouths of seven thousand men, women and children. Then, as the Order of the Day had been previously arranged, a line was formed and in single file they passed before their old chief and his granddaughter. With a bow and a hearty wish each man passed by.
"Ah, grandpapa, if you could only see their kind faces!" cried Perrine.
But there were some faces that were not exactly radiant. The two nephews certainly looked very glum when, after the ceremony, they came up to their cousin to offer their congratulations.
"As for me," said Talouel, who did not mean to lose any time in paying court to the young heiress, "I had always supposed...."
The excitement of the day proved too much for M. Vulfran. The doctor was called in.
"You can understand, doctor," said the blind man anxiously, "how much I want to see my little granddaughter. You must get me into a state so that I can have this operation."
"That is just it," said the doctor cheerily, "you must not have all this excitement. You must be perfectly calm. Now that this beautiful weather has come, you must go out, but you must keep quiet, and I guarantee that as soon as your cough has gone we shall be able to have a successful operation."
And the doctor's words came true. A month after M. Vulfran's birthday two specialists came down from Paris to perform the operation.
When they wished to put him under an anesthetic he refused.
"If my granddaughter will have the courage to hold my hand," he said, "you will see that I will be brave. Is it very painful?"
They would use cocaine to alleviate the pain.
The operation was over. Then came five or six days of waiting. The patient was kept in a dark room. Then at last the grandfather was allowed to see his little granddaughter.
"Ah, if I had only had my eyes," he cried as he gazed at Perrine's beautiful little face, "I should have recognized her at the first glance. What fools! Couldn't anyone have seen the likeness to her father? This time Talouel would have been right if he had said that he 'supposed'...."
They did not let him use his eyes for long. Again the bandage was put on and was kept on for thirty days. Then one of the oculists who had remained at the chateau went up to Paris to select the glasses which would enable him to read and see at a distance.
What M. Vulfran desired most, now that he had seen Perrine's sweet face, was to go out and see his works, but this needed great precaution, and the trip had to be postponed for a time, for he did not wish to be closed up in a landau with the windows up, but to use his old phaeton and be driven by Perrine and show himself with her everywhere. For that they had to wait for a warm, sunny day.
At last the day they wanted came. The sky was blue, the air soft and warm. After luncheon Perrine gave the order to Bastien for the phaeton with old Coco to be at the door.
"Yes, at once, mademoiselle," he said with a smile.
Perrine was surprised at the tone of his reply and his smile; but she paid no more attention to it, as she was busy fussing about her grandfather so that he would not take cold.
Presently Bastien came to say that the phaeton was ready. Perrine's eyes did not leave her grandfather as he walked forwards and down the steps alone. When they reached the last step a loud bray made her start. She looked up.
There stood a donkey harnessed to a phaeton! A donkey, and that donkey was like Palikare, a Palikare shiny and glossy, with polished shoes and adorned with a beautiful yellow harness with blue tassels. The donkey, with his neck stretched out, continued to bray. In spite of the groom's hold upon him he turned and tried to get to Perrine.
"Palikare!" she cried.
She flew to him and flung her arms around his neck.
"Oh, grandpapa, what a lovely surprise!" she cried, dancing around her dear Palikare.
"You don't owe it to me," said her grandfather. "Fabry bought it from that ragpicker to whom you sold it. The office staff offer it as a gift to their old comrade."
"Oh, hasn't Monsieur Fabry got a good, kind heart!" cried Perrine.
"Yes, he thought of it, but your cousins did not," said M. Vulfran. "I have ordered a pretty cart from Paris for him. This phaeton is not the thing for him."
They got up into the carriage and Perrine took the reins delightedly.
"Where shall we go first, grandpapa?" she asked.
"Why, to the log cabin," he said. "Don't you think I want to see the little nest where you once lived, my darling?"
He referred to the cabin on the island where she had lived for a time the preceding year. It remained fondly in his mind. She drove on to the entrance and helped her grandfather alight at the path.
The cabin seemed just the same as when Perrine left it.
"How strange," said M. Vulfran, "that only a few steps from a great industrial center you were able to live the life of a savage here."
"In India we led a real savage life," said Perrine. "Everything around us belonged to us there, but here, I had no right to this and I was often very afraid."
After M. Vulfran had inspected the little log hut he wanted to see the creche at Maraucourt.
He thought that he would easily recognize it, as he had so often discussed the plans with Fabry, but when he found himself at the entrance, and was able to see at a glance all the other rooms, the dormitory where the little babies were asleep in their rose and blue cribs according to the sex, the playroom where those who could walk were playing, the kitchen, the lavatory, he was surprised and delighted.
Using large glass doors, the architect had cleverly made his plans so that from the first room the mothers could see all that went on in the other rooms where they were not allowed to enter.
In the nursery the children sprang forward and jumped upon Perrine, showing her the playthings that they had in their hands.
"I see that you are known here," said M. Vulfran.
"Known!" replied Mlle. Belhomme, greeting them. "She is loved by all; she is a little mother to them, and no one can play like she can."
M. Vulfran put his arms affectionately around his granddaughter as they went on to the carriage.
They returned home slowly as evening fell. Then as they passed from one hill to another, they found themselves overlooking the surrounding country, where new roofs and tall chimneys could be seen everywhere.
M. Vulfran took Perrine's hand.
"All that is your work, child," he said; "I only thought of business. See what you have done. But so that this can all be continued in the years to come, we shall have to find you a husband, one who will be worthy of you, who will work for us. We will not ask anything more of him. I think one day we shall find the right man and we shall all be happy ... en famille...."
THE BERRY PATCH
12mo. Illustrated. Beautiful cloth binding, stamped in gold and jacket in colors.
Price, $1.50 Net.
The Berry family home was called the Berry Patch because of the "cross-patch" dispositions of the children, but, at heart, they all wanted to be right, and so the clash of experiences at last brought good results. In the process of interesting events, the reform of the family brought about the reform of the community, with unhappy dispositions changed into lovable characters, that make good citizens and reach social success.
Elspeth Oliver is the girl whose energy keeps things whirling in the Berry Patch. Judge Berry was the great authority on what's what among them, and John Tabor, the school teacher, was the romantic character in the community. All the human excitements of pride and self-will enter into the various ambitions. Even generous impulses were taught restraint in the experiences of various kinds, showing that there is an appropriate time and place for everything.
The Berry Patch children did not get into mischief from any desire to make trouble, but because a surplus of energy was engaged in making discoveries. However, the greatest of all discoveries was that experience is a dear teacher, and random experiences sometimes cost many tears. Human nature in the "Berry Patch" is revealed in so many ways that it makes profitable and interesting reading for those who are troubled with household troubles.
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CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY, PUBLISHERS New York
12mo. Illustrated, Beautiful cloth binding, stamped in gold with cover inlay and jacket in colors.
Price $1.50 Net.
This lively story of charming little girls awakens the fancy and stimulates the ambition of all little readers to be approved of their associates, and to win the admiration of their worthiest friends. The inspiration to do one's best in both work and play, with due regard for the comfort and welfare of others, is one of the fine merits of this story.
Rosemary Willis is twelve years old, the eldest of three sisters. She is charming, quick and radiant, with a snappy temper. As she is the responsible one, she has many hard struggles to do the right thing in the right way. Sarah is two years younger. She is the peculiar one, with her love for all kinds of animals about the farm, and her unsocial, stubborn disposition. Her unruly ideas lead her into numerous troubles before she changes her mind. Shirley is the baby and pet of six years. As she gets her own way so often, she is badly spoiled and receives many hard knocks before she begins to appreciate the comfort and interest of others. Dr. Hugh is their big brother, who has the care of them in the absence of their parents, and he ranges in their estimation all the way from terrible tyrant to wonderful, necessary brother. There are others who help complicate as well as untangle troubles, and fill up the experience of the story with interesting glimpses of life.
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CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY, PUBLISHERS New York