“Till the stars
and the angels come to keep
Their watch, where my baby lies fast asleep.”
Late in the night Jules awoke with a start, and sat up, wondering what had aroused him. He knew that it must be after midnight, for the moon was nearly down. Henri was snoring. Suddenly such a strong feeling of hunger came over him, that he could think of nothing else. It was like a gnawing pain. As if he were being led by some power outside of his own will, he slipped to the door of the room. The little bare feet made no noise on the carpetless floor. No mouse could have stolen down the stairs more silently than timid little Jules. The latch of the kitchen door gave a loud click that made him draw back with a shiver of alarm; but that was all. After waiting one breathless minute, his heart beating like a trip-hammer, he went on into the pantry.
The moon was so far down now, that only a white glimmer of light showed him the faint outline of things; but his keen little nose guided him. There was half a cheese on the swinging shelf, with all the bread that had been left from supper. He broke off great pieces of each in eager haste. Then he found a crock of goat’s milk. Lifting it to his mouth, he drank with big, quick gulps until he had to stop for breath. Just as he was about to raise it to his lips again, some instinct of danger made him look up. There in the doorway stood Brossard, bigger and darker and more threatening than he had ever seemed before.
[Illustration: “It fell to the floor with A crash.”]
A frightened little gasp was all that the child had strength to give. He turned so sick and faint that his nerveless fingers could no longer hold the crock. It fell to the floor with a crash, and the milk spattered all over the pantry. Jules was too terrified to utter a sound. It was Brossard who made the outcry. Jules could only shut his eyes and crouch down trembling, under the shelf. The next instant he was dragged out, and Brossard’s merciless strap fell again and again on the poor shrinking little body, that writhed under the cruel blows.
Once more Jules dragged himself up-stairs to his cot, this time bruised and sore, too exhausted for tears, too hopeless to think of possible to-morrows.
Poor little prince in the clutches of the ogre! If only fairy tales might be true! If only some gracious spirit of elfin lore might really come at such a time with its magic wand of healing! Then there would be no more little desolate hearts, no more grieved little faces with undried tears upon them in all the earth. Over every threshold where a child’s wee feet had pattered in and found a home, it would hang its guardian Scissors of Avenging, so that only those who belong to the kingdom of loving hearts and gentle hands would ever dare to enter.