Joyce fired out the words as if they had been bullets, and so rapidly that monsieur could scarcely follow her meaning. Then, having relieved her mind, and fearing that maybe she had been rude in speaking so forcibly to such an old gentleman, she very humbly begged his pardon. Before he could recover from her rapid change in manner and her torrent of words, she reached out her hand, saying, in the meekest of little voices, “And will you please give me back those things, monsieur? The sheet is Madame Greville’s, and I’ve got to stuff that hair back in the mattress to-night.”
Monsieur gave them to her, still too astonished for words. He had never before heard any child speak in such a way. This one seemed more like a wild, uncanny little sprite than like any of the little girls he had known heretofore. Before he could recover from his bewilderment, Joyce had gone. “Good night, monsieur,” she called, as the gate clanged behind her.
Old “Number thirty-one.”
No sooner had the gate closed upon the subdued little ghost, shorn now of its terrors, than the old man strode forward to the place where Brossard crouched in the straw, still crossing himself. This sudden appearance of his master at such a time only added to Brossard’s fright. As for Jules, his knees shook until he could scarcely stand.
Henri, his curiosity lending him courage, cautiously opened the kitchen door to peer out again. Emboldened by the silence, he flung the door wide open, sending a broad stream of lamplight across the little group in the barnyard. Without a word of greeting monsieur laid hold of the trembling Jules and drew him nearer the door. Throwing open the child’s blouse, he examined the thin little shoulders, which shrank away as if to dodge some expected blow.
“Go to my room,” was all the old man said to him. Then he turned fiercely towards Brossard. His angry tones reached Jules even after he had mounted the stairs and closed the door. The child crept close to the cheerful fire, and, crouching down on the rug, waited in a shiver of nervousness for his uncle’s step on the stair.
Meanwhile, Joyce, hurrying home all a-tingle with the excitement of her adventure, wondered anxiously what would be the result of it. Under cover of the dusk she slipped into the house unobserved. There was barely time to dress for dinner. When she made her appearance monsieur complimented her unusually red cheeks.
“Doubtless mademoiselle has had a fine promenade,” he said.
“No,” answered Joyce, with a blush that made them redder still, and that caused madame to look at her so keenly that she felt those sharp eyes must be reading her inmost thoughts. It disturbed her so that she upset the salt, spilled a glass of water, and started to eat her soup with a fork. She glanced in an embarrassed way from madame to monsieur, and gave a nervous little laugh.