CHAPTER I. Just on the outskirts of the forest, which belonged to a great Belgian noble, where the ground was broken into ravines clothed with brushwood, and separated from each other by sharp rocky ridges hard to climb, lay the prettiest little gorge of all, because the greenest, and half-way down it was the old Mill of Vaucourt.
On either side, the steep grassy cliffs, made steeper here and there by pro truding brown rocks, shut out all view of the world beyond.
‘To make us think more of the heavens above us,’ said Lisa, the miller’s daughter. Through the gorge brawled a mountain stream, born not far off in the forest there, but already, like a sturdy boy, so full of noisy strength that it turned the old wheel like a plaything, and hurried with great leaps over all the rocks in its way down—still down —towards the wide, misty plains of the lowlands. Round a bend of the hill spur, at the lower end of the gorge, lay little Vaucourt itself, where the folk at the mill went to see the neighbors or to hear mass on Sundays and fete days. And again, up by your right from the mill, a little path wound under the cliff and away through the forest; even (if you went far enough) to the high road, which partly passed through the wood and led though still farther to the great town.
Here Lisa of the mill was standing one July evening, shading her eyes from the last rays of the sun and gazing into the tree shadows. She was the eldest child of old Armand Duplessis, the miller j too good and pure for earth he thought at times, and, indeed, in childhood his wife had believed their tender babe must die, so vowed her to Mary if she recovered. She did grow up after that, but was so pale and gentle, so tall and slender, dressed in pure white, too (according to her mother’s vows), that the neighbors called her, with wondering praise at her unlikeness to their own strong, squarebuilt girls, our Lily of Vaucourt. The parents had liked the name, and the little brothers and sisters called her Lis, thinking also that sweet elder something altogether different from themselves.
When the mother went to rest in Holy Mary’s bosom (because she died when the youngest, little Bebe, was born, our blessed lady having especial pity on such dying mothers), all the country-side spoke in reverend admiring wonder of how Lisa had brought up those children, herself hardly more than a child.
‘ But she prays so fervently that the dear saints must surely help her,’ said the Curd.
And now it was five years since then, and Lisa’s day of days—her weddingday ! —was coming in August. Jacques Lemaitre was hardly good enough for her, the neighbors thought; but he was handsome and well-off for a woodcutter. It was a pity she had not chosen one of their own sons instead of a stranger lately employed by the Prince’s forester, but young girls were fanciful, and preferred new faces to those to which they had, mayhap, grown over-used.
She was still looking down the forest path in her pale lilac cotton dress, with snow-white cap and apron ; a lace frill round her neck, and her mother’s gold earrings in her ears. A dark-haired, dark-eyed, slight, tall peasant girl only ; but so sweet-faced
and of a pallor so tender and pure that she looked as if she had always just risen from devotion.
Here he was coming ! And with a wonderful joy lighting up her eyes and tingling her face into faint color, Lisa went forward gently to greet her lover. ‘ How late you are, dear Jacques; the supper is already on the table, and the father and good grandmother and the little ones are waiting. But you look strange !’ ‘ Tired, little one, tired. Do not touch me,’ I.emaitre hoarsely said, drawing away as she laid light fingers on his arm.
1 I feel too hot and dusty and dirty. A lily should not be soiled ; so let-me wash my face and hands first I had so far to come, I would not have done it but that you made me promise.’ ‘ But your face ! it is all bruised on this temple, and your eyes cannot look at mine, and are bloodshot—your hands are trembling—what has happened, my dear one?’ the young girl exclaimed, her large eyes dilating, and her face growing paler. It was true. Jacques’ close-cropped black hair seemed disordered; the blouse, which covered his broad shoulders and strong, frame was slightly torn, whilst his narrow, deep-set eyes were reddened; they fell too, as if weak, under her gaze. * I had a narrow escape, Lisa. A giant tree we had been cutting crashed down too soon, and a branch felled me to the ground—my head still swims and my eyes saw as if flames—and blood ! That is all’
‘All! I might have lost you !’ she uttered in dismay and horror. Then with a revulsion of feeling added with pious thankfulness — ‘ Ah, it was no doubt my prayers last night, that all evil and dangers might be kept far from you, that were your safeguard. The saints stood by you !’ And, as she so said in trembling awestruck tones, great tsars of tenderness rose to her eyes though she tried to smile. -
The woodcutter clenched his big fingers with a nervous movement of, one might have almost thought, desperation ; then drew his coat sleeve over his eyes and forehead. Surely he was thinking to himself he did not deserve such affection. *Ah ! ah ! when young folks are affianced, the woodcutting does ndt prosper very finely,’ cried old Armand, as all sat down to supper round the wellscoured table, while overhead from the brown raftejs dangled herbs and onions, which, said the grandmother, gave a pleasant smell. ‘You do not eat, my son,’ went oh the old man. ‘ Try some of that brown bread there. Since Lisa baked it, 'twill taste the sweeter.’ Jacques gave an awkward laugh, and he started from a dream, then whispered, bending his handsome sallow face to his sweetheart’s, ‘ I have something to give thee, little one, after a while.’ ‘ What is it ?’ asked Lisa, as, (he meal over, he drew her aside to the deep diaraond-paned casement overlooking the mill-wheel. Then she gave a cry of wonder as he put in her hand a row of beads, from which fell a small silver cross, each pale brown bead of some fragrant foreign wood with chased silver inlaid in it. Had it not cost all his earnings ? and sixteen beads ! why it wanted just sixteen days to their wedding day! Each day she would say a long prayer for him; Maybe his thoughts were more earthly, for he never answered that, but abruptly asked her to come and talk with him as a reward; and Lisa promised with shy pleasure. But first she would hear the little ones their prayers; none other must do that till she left home. Jacques’face darkened somewhat at that, but he went patiently outside to where the miller was seated on a rough bench near the house door. Turning sideways the goodman could see into the pleasantly sombre kitchen, where the old grandmother was dozing in her high chair, while near the table, now cleared and clean again, sat his lily maiden with the three youngest at her knee. Good Manon, the next eldest, broad, strong, and just fifteen, was listening with all her ears to the teaching of little prayers, the devout legends and tender counsels to be good of her elder; sturdily resolving to remember every word and say them over and over again to the little ones when their Lua was married. For Manon’s brain could not devise for itself, and could not even hold much at a time. Lisa was so full of holy thoughts she could actually invent new little prayers most wonderfully for all occasions. But then the kind Cur 6 consoled Manon by telling her she had Martha’s gift, and was stronger to rub the big coppers. ‘ I wonder you give her to roe, Father Armand !’ said Jacques, so suddenly that the worthy miller took his long pipe in surprise out of his mouth.
‘ Why yes !’ said the latter, approvingly, while the wood cutter’s face flushed and he bent his eyes earthward, as if his words had come out unawares, and were too true to be wise.
; But youth has it’s hey-day, and the old folks must not be selfish. Manon is very useful too, already. I am also right glad you have the cottage in Vaucourt nearest the forest. The neighbors will keep my Lisa company while you are in the woods, and the Chapel is so near that it gladdens her. She is good, Jacques—but good ! ah, too much so I almost think. That suits for the skies better than our poor earth.’
As Lisa slept out in the twilight both men hushed.
The girl drew Jacques with her, then, in gentle playfulness to show him something, as she said, round the house corner by the south wall; now he must shut his eyes a moment —now open them . . so! And she laughed in gay triumph, and showed him a wonderful plant in a pot —a tall green lily almost seven feet high, with so many buds all unclosing that it was a marvel to see.
The kind old Cur£ had given it her last winter, saying with his gentle laugh that it was her other self, and might it prosper as she did, and it would prove fair and white-leaved as a saint, but warmly rosy, human-like, at the heart, while the brown spots on it should be but freckles when the sun kissed it, as in summertime her own pale cheeks. Yes—yes! it was pretty. But : then again Jacques asked Lisa with feverish
impatience would she not c ::i, ■ come and talk with him ! Once or twice before, v’ on gentle girl had shown him i on i. o tenderly innocent joys—secrets of . uheart —telling him of her pmyers r . r his soul, and shyly whispering lad asked his intercession for hers also with the dear saints, it had frightened her to think that he turned from all subjects but that of his mere earthlybounded love with roughness. Still, her father had consoled her, when once he surprised her weeping a little all by herself. Tut, when his Lily was but once married she could make of her husband just such another saint. Till then he himself felt with Jacques, it was hard to tramp three leagues through the forest to hear no warmer words from a maiden than legends and tales, however holy j he a gay young fellow who liked his fetes and fairs and holidays and feast days like the rest. Had he gone wooing the browner, rosy-cheeked girls around, they would have given him a different greeting. • So Lisa now refrained from words that were trembling on her lips, and let the woodcutter lead her away down to the little bridge, and whisper in her ear sweet but more earthly words for she loved him so dearly ! It almost seemed a sin—(yet ah! such an innocent gladdening sin)- —to forget higher things for awhile in those moments of bliss, when all her heart and thought and soul were given only to the man she was so soon to marry ! Would the blessed ones grudge her so few seconds, which other girls took without a pang? Surely not! The bridge was but three planks flung across the little torrent, and they leaned on its handrail. Over the cliff peeped the round edge of the moon, which then in full glory rose up, and up, and up, till it looked into the small ravine. The mill lay in shadow. Sometimes a drop of spray laughingly kissed Lisa’s brow, and the noise nf the water’s rush made them put their heads closer to be heard ; and when, silent, they could just catch the trill and gurgle of the nightingale somewhere, one. knew not where, in the silvered strip of grassy meadow dotted with thornbushes yonder, or the thicket dappled with shadows hard beside it. ‘lt is like a night blessed by God, when for once there seems no evil nor bloodshed on earth,’ said sweet Lisa. * Dear heart, do you not think the little fairies will dance to-night and perhaps the angels walk upon the earth, while we sinful folk let it rest awhile, ( and they may come and smile upon us in our dreams ?’
‘Can' you see—there! where the white water curls round that grey stone —faces —dead faces grinning ?’ replied Jacques in a hoarse, low whisper, while his eyes burned close to 1 -isa’s and sudden drops started on his forehead. (To be continued.)
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LISA., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 326, 23 April 1881
LISA. Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 326, 23 April 1881
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