“Ha, there, Jules! Thou lazy vagabond! Late again! Canst thou never learn that I am not to be kept waiting?”
“But, Brossard,” quavered the boy in his shrill, anxious voice, “it was not my fault, indeed it was not. The goats were so stubborn to-night. They broke through the hedge, and I had to chase them over three fields.”
“Have done with thy lying excuses,” was the rough answer. “Thou shalt have no supper to-night. Maybe an empty stomach will teach thee when my commands fail. Hasten and drive the goats into the pen.”
There was a scowl on Brossard’s burly red face that made Jules’s heart bump up in his throat. Brossard was only the caretaker of the Ciseaux place, but he had been there for twenty years,—so long that he felt himself the master. The real master was in Algiers nearly all the time. During his absence the great house was closed, excepting the kitchen and two rooms above it. Of these Brossard had one and Henri the other. Henri was the cook; a slow, stupid old man, not to be jogged out of either his good-nature or his slow gait by anything that Brossard might say.
Henri cooked and washed and mended, and hoed in the garden. Brossard worked in the fields and shaved down the expenses of their living closer and closer. All that was thus saved fell to his share, or he might not have watched the expenses so carefully.
Much saving had made him miserly. Old Therese, the woman with the fish-cart, used to say that he was the stingiest man in all Tourraine. She ought to know, for she had sold him a fish every Friday during all those twenty years, and he had never once failed to quarrel about the price. Five years had gone by since the master’s last visit. Brossard and Henri were not likely to forget that time, for they had been awakened in the dead of night by a loud knocking at the side gate. When they opened it the sight that greeted them made them rub their sleepy eyes to be sure that they saw aright.
There stood the master, old Martin Ciseaux. His hair and fiercely bristling mustache had turned entirely white since they had last seen him. In his arms he carried a child.
Brossard almost dropped his candle in his first surprise, and his wonder grew until he could hardly contain it, when the curly head raised itself from monsieur’s shoulder, and the sleepy baby voice lisped something in a foreign tongue.
“By all the saints!” muttered Brossard, as he stood aside for his master to pass.
“It’s my brother Jules’s grandson,” was the curt explanation that monsieur offered. “Jules is dead, and so is his son and all the family,—died in America. This is his son’s son, Jules, the last of the name. If I choose to take him from a foreign poorhouse and give him shelter, it’s nobody’s business, Louis Brossard, but my own.”
With that he strode on up the stairs to his room, the boy still in his arms. This sudden coming of a four-year-old child into their daily life made as little difference to Brossard and Henri as the presence of the four-months-old puppy. They spread a cot for him in Henri’s room when the master went back to Algiers. They gave him something to eat three times a day when they stopped for their own meals, and then went on with their work as usual.