Frédéric was an adorable baby, almost a year old. He lived with his parents in a small house, several hundred feet away from Isabelle's home. Our friend often went to play with him.
It was a nice change from her three older brothers: Bertrand, nineteen years old, Benoît, thirteen, and Benjamin, seven. At Frédéric's, she felt like a big sister, and a baby is even better than a doll. The little boy's mother told great stories. Plus, she made excellent cookies. These were three good reasons to visit often.
One Wednesday afternoon, Isabelle went to her little friend's house. She was wearing her yellow overalls, a white T-shirt, and blue tennis shoes. The weather wasn't very nice, as it was too hot and threatening to storm.
Around four o'clock, the baby was in his playpen in the middle of the living room, where our friend had been playing with him for over an hour without getting bored. Frédéric's mother approached the two children.
"Sweetheart, would you be able to watch Frédéric on your own for fifteen minutes? Would you be too scared?"
"No, ma'am," said Isabelle. "I'm no scaredy-cat."
"I have to go to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription. It will take me five minutes to drive to the other village, five minutes in the drugstore, and five minutes to come back. So, the whole trip will take fifteen minutes."
"No problem," Isabelle said with a smile. "I'll take care of him. We're having a good time."
"Leave him in his playpen, and if he cries, don't worry, I'll be right back."
"I'm not worried," the girl said again.
And the baby's mother left.
Our friend continued to play with the little boy. Time passed. Fifteen minutes, thirty minutes. The mother didn't return.
Isabelle got thirsty. She went to the kitchen, took a glass from the cupboard, and filled it with water from the tap. She went back near the baby to drink it. Frédéric began to cry. Isabelle looked at him.
"Maybe you're thirsty, too," she thought.
Our friend gave the baby a drink by tilting her glass up to his mouth. But babies don't drink like that. The water ran down his neck and he cried even louder.
Isabelle returned to the kitchen. She found a bottle in the cupboard but didn't know how to make milk from the powder on the table. Instead, she opened the refrigerator and saw a carton of milk. She poured some into the bottle, screwed on the nipple, and returned to the living room. She took Frédéric out of the playpen, sat down in an armchair with the baby in her lap, and gave him the bottle of cold milk. The sweet baby was thirsty and drank half of it. Then he fell asleep.
The little girl put him down next to her on the sofa.
The storm broke at just that moment. Lightning flashed across the black sky, accompanied by violently loud thunder. Isabelle started to feel really scared. And the little boy's mother still didn't come back!
The storm raged so loudly that Frédéric woke up and began to cry. Isabelle tried to calm him down by telling him that there was no need to be afraid. But she herself wasn't very reassured! At home, she would seek refuge near her parents or in her big brothers' room, but there was no one here. She was the big sister.
Suddenly, while she was talking to the little boy, she heard a loud noise, as if a window had been broken upstairs.
At first, she didn't dare to move. She was afraid it was a thief. But she didn't hear anything else. Our friend picked up the baby and, feeling curious, slowly and silently went up the stairs.
The door to the baby's parents' room was banging. Was it the wind? She stepped inside.
The window was wide open to the raging storm. It had probably been badly closed, and a gust of wind had just blown it open. The window had knocked over a vase that was on a table. This vase had fallen on the floor, broken. That explained the loud noise.
The stormy wind was blowing rain into the room. Isabelle noticed a puddle on the floor.
She put Frédéric on his parents' bed and closed the window. It was difficult because the handle was so high. Then she took the baby and left the bedroom.
Just as she was ready to go back downstairs to the living room, she heard another noise. There was a strange sound coming from the attic, a sort of creaking, as if someone were walking across the floorboards up there, or even on the roof!
The girl's heart started pounding. She was really scared. She was sure that she had heard someone moving around up there.
She hurried down the stairs.
As she stepped into the living room, all the lights went out. Not a single lamp was still burning.
Our friend tried several light switches while holding the baby in her arms, but nothing happened. The television was off, too. Isabelle looked out the window. She didn't see any lights on in the other houses. All the power in the village had been cut off because of the violent storm. Now, only lightning flashes illuminated the living room from time to time, punctuated by rumbling thunder. And then there was the strange sound of footsteps in the attic, which still frightened her.
The terrified little girl was silent, all alone in the house with the small child in her arms. And the mother still hadn't returned! She had been waiting for her for more than an hour now.
What if the footsteps upstairs were a robber?
Isabelle began to tremble and hugged the baby close. She wanted to cry.
Meanwhile, at our friend's house, her mother and father asked Bertrand, Benoît, and Benjamin, her three older brothers, where their little sister was.
"At Frédéric's house, Mom," Bertrand replied.
"Oh, okay then. That puts my mind at ease. She'll probably stay there during the storm and come home when it stops raining."
Since the storm had cut off the power supply, Benoît, who was deprived of his video games, sat down at the piano to keep himself busy. He played a little concert for his parents and brothers, who were happy to sit in the living room and listen.
Isabelle was still holding the baby at Frédéric's house. She hesitated. Rain was pelting against the windows. Yet she was considering leaving the house and going home.
The brave girl certainly wasn't going to run away and leave the baby boy behind.
She went to the foyer. She opened the closet and then a chest of drawers, trying to find a raincoat or a coat for the baby, but she couldn't find any.
Then, holding the little one tightly against her and protecting his head with one of her hands, our friend opened the door and went out into the rain. The storm appeared to be letting up. The lightning seemed less frequent, and the thunder more distant. But it was still raining heavily, falling in waves. The water flowed everywhere in torrents and the sidewalks were covered with large puddles.
Isabelle was only a couple of blocks from home. But the girl had nothing to protect herself with. She had gone to Frédéric's house without a jacket. She was soaked in an instant. Her blonde locks were no longer bobbing on her shoulders, and water dripped down her back. Her feet were wet in her little blue canvas sneakers.
But a one-year-old baby is heavy for a six-year-old; well, almost six, she was five and a half.
Isabelle made it halfway to her house. Her overalls were totally soaked, and her t-shirt was sticking to her skin.
She reached a bus stop and thought she could shelter there and regain her strength for a little while. She sat down on the covered bench. She took a deep breath with the little boy on her lap.
Out of the blue, a big car stopped right in front of her in the rain. A window opened.
"Hop in, kiddo! I'll drive you home," said the man behind the wheel.
Isabelle refused. She was getting scared again. Her parents had taught her never to talk to people she didn't know, and especially to never get into a car driven by a stranger. She shook her head no. The man persevered.
"You're alone in the rain with your little brother. You're cold. Don't you want me to take you home?"
"No, go away," our friend begged. "I don't need anything."
The man behind the wheel had only the best intentions. He understood that he was scaring the girl, so rather than frightening her even more, he drove off in the rain.
Isabelle, who was somewhat rested, set off again. She arrived in front of her house, soaked to the bone, with the baby well protected in her arms.
She rang the doorbell, but it didn't work because the power was out. She knocked, but her parents didn't hear anything. Benoît was playing the piano and the whole family was enjoying it.
The little girl pondered for a moment. She went into the yard. She thought she would go in through the back door in the kitchen. That door was usually unlocked, but due to the storm and to avoid drafts, her parents had locked it! They had also drawn the drapes in the living room. She knocked and hammered on the door, but it was no use. Nobody heard her. Nobody answered.
She turned around and saw the shed at the far end of the yard: an old plank shack without a door, where they kept shovels, boots, the lawnmower, and bicycles. She walked over to the shed and sat down on the ground inside, still holding the baby in her arms.
She was cold in her wet clothes. The gusting wind chilled her back through the wooden planks. The storm had broken the heat and chilled the air considerably.
It was barely raining in the shed, only a few drops.
Frédéric wasn't crying anymore. He was watching the older girl. But his fingers were cold, and his little lips were trembling.
Once again, Isabelle was very brave. She unhooked her overall straps, took off her t-shirt, then re-buttoned the straps with her shirt off. She wrapped the baby in her t-shirt, so he wouldn't be so cold. Just like a fantastic big sister!
But she was shivering now. And at times, the wind whipping through the shed made her shake even more.
She hugged the boy and kissed him often. All she could think about was protecting him.
Suddenly, seven-year-old Benjamin, the youngest of our friend's three big brothers, got tired of listening to Benoît's recital. He went upstairs to his room and glanced out the window to see if the storm was subsiding. Looking out at the garden during a lightning flash, he saw his little sister in the shed.
He called down the stairs to his parents.
"Dad, Mom, Isabelle is playing with a doll in the backyard shed!"
He didn't know that it was Baby Frédéric and not a doll.
The parents opened the kitchen door and rushed out to the two children. Dad picked up his little girl, while Mom took the baby.
Isabelle dried off and changed her clothes. Her parents took care of the little one.
Our friend told them all about what had happened after Frédéric's mother had left: the footsteps, her fears (terrors, even), and how the baby's mother hadn't come back. Her parents and older brothers praised Isabelle on her courage and resourcefulness.
"You could have called us," her father said.
But our friend didn't know her parents' phone number by heart.
Finally, there was a knock at the door. Frédéric's mother had arrived nearly two hours late!
Surprised by the storm on the way back from the pharmacy, she skidded on a curve and her car slid into a ditch. The baby's mother had immediately called a tow truck, which came two hours later.
She had been very worried and kept thinking about Isabelle, hoping that the little girl would manage on her own and not be too scared. She had no idea that our friend could be so brave!
She also complimented her.
"You were so wonderful with my little one. You're like a second mother to him. I think that Frédéric has a real big sister now!"
Our friend smiled proudly.
Then, she asked about the noise she had heard in the attic. The baby's mother explained that during heavy rain, the gutter overflowed, and the water accumulated in the eaves, causing a creaking that sounded like someone walking on the roof.
It all turned out fine. But the day of the storm remains one of the scariest days of Isabelle's life. So far.
Translation : Beth Smith