‘ Jacques ! you frighten me—do not look so ! ’ cried Lisa, and covered her eyes with her hands, half trembling. ‘ Nay, you are as naughty as our Jean, who jumps out in the dark to alarm us. lam more silly than you think.’ ‘lt was an evil trick. Come away—come away,’ the young man hastily answered in apology, while he yet laughed out loudly at her terror. They then sat down on the bank. ‘Now I will tell you a little heart’s desire,’ said Lisa, smiling. ‘ I think it is so sad that up at your hut you should be all alone on the blessed Sunday afternoons. What if we put the children in the cart and harnessed the old mule ? Would you not stare for joy if we came up through the forest all laughing and singing, bringing white bread and milk and strawberries ?’
‘ No, no ! You must not,' cried Jacques, with a great gasp in his breath, catching her by the arm. ‘ Do ypu not see—l might,, be away—might miss you. Some day, when we settle
beforehand, you may all come —not otherwise. I am easily vexed, Lisa ; swear to me never to come otherwise — swear!’ ‘ I promise,’ she somewhat sadly answered ; ‘ and now, dear Jacques, will you not let my arm go, for it pains.’
But that night when he had gone back through the dark forest, the poor girl dropped a tear or two in her little room ; for her heart told her now k must be true, as some whispered, that the woodcutters took the brown hares which came across their path—or even worse —a fine young roebuck or so. Most stoutly averred it was no sin, since these nibbled at the forest clearings of poor men, and never a centime would the Prince’s steward repay them.
But Lisa was hardly sure of the rights or wrongs of the case, so wept a tear or two and prayed—prayed that if Jacques were indeed sinning he might be forgiven—prayed, also, that if ever this, her great love, had awhile blotted out heaven from her poor earthly sight, she, and she alone—not he—might be chastised. Only that her love might not be taken from her !
Before she had ended undressing, the girl was about to wash her face and hands, when by accident the string of beads Jacques had given her, and which she still wore, fell into the coarse white basin. Lisa was just going to lift them out carefully, when she perceived that the water about them was becoming slightly discolored —more and more ! till a reddish hue surrounded them. The girl snatched them out in haste, fearing that the water might spoil the delicate foreign wood of the rosary, that plainly con tained some dye. She brought the tallow candle near to examine them, before drying them on a towel. What was this? Sticking in the interstice between two of the beads was a soft clot, that, when she wiped it out, made her turn sick—for, as it touched her fingers and spread, she knew without doubt it was blood ! For a few moments Lisa felt amazed, disgusted, and rather faint; then she slowly recovered. She remembered what Jacques had told her of his accident that day, how he had been bruised by the tree, even bleeding. His blood was on his present, poor dear Jacques! She must wash the rosary now carefully, and would wear it round her neck during her steep for his loved sake.
And so she did, clasping it on tenderly, glad to see that no more signs of blood came off it on that second washing; showing that Jacques’ hurt had not been very severe. So Lisa lay down on her hard little settle bed and fell asleep with the brown beads round her throat and her hands folded as in prayer. Outside, the lily slept too, but—as if by the spiteful agency of some earth-gnome—an ugly great worm lay coiled hurtfully round its tender root, unseen by human eyes. The moon fell on the bare wooden floor, with its little boards all laid in zig-zag pattern, passed by the single chair and the rude crucifix on the wall, and kissed—in chat poor little closet it had barely a yard to go—the sleeper’s pure eyelids, whereon yet hung a tear. Lisa moved with slight uneasiness. Her momentary alarm had given her an ugly dream, and her imagination was working unchecked by the sense of material every-day existence given by the waking sensation of the body. Something had seemed so tight about her throat—nay, nothing 1 . The heavy white lids dropped again more heavily; again low breathings sounded, and • sleep pressed on the gir ls temples warm and close. . . . What seemed to press still closer about her neck ? For the second time Lisa half roused from sleep with a cry of alarm, and found herself—only trying, as it were, to tear her dear beads off. So she said an Ave and lovingly fondled them in atonement; then, turning on her other side, was soon again overcome with sleep, and dreamt and dreamt.
She dreamt of weird dark forest depths, ghostly treeboles, and shadowy fearsome places ; then of passing on and on, gasping because something followed her ever behind, or someone ! Gruesome, unearthly—the horror of which made her flesh creep, in the dream raised her hair, it seemed, and came nearer, nearer—almost touched her now! —now was at her throat, tightening, choking, strangling. With a great cry Lisa sprang, up in her bed, and tore the beads from her neck ; then tossing back her dark hair, glanced fearfully round with a pallid frightened face. Only the gentle moonlight on her white bed and shadows in the corners ! —yet she still felt that nameless horror, and trembling gazed all round as if in fascination, with wide innocent eyes; Little by little the muscles of her throat relaxed their convulsive tightening ; the sickening feeling—a feeling as of some evil near—lifted, slowly passed away. Creeping out from her poor bed, meaning to pray below the crucifix, her bare feet touched the beads and she recoiled with a shudder, then forced herself to take them up, and hang them on a nail below the figure on the cross.
As poor Lisa knelt below it humbly, in her white dress, the moon seemed to smile on her upturned face, pure as any failing earthly soul’s could be, whilst she prayed with hfcr whole strengh to be saved from all things of darkness and hurtfulness. Was she heard ?
The old glow in her heart, and, as it were, blessed light all about her, again softly came; comforting, hushing her sprit, uplifted in that bliss, as once or twice before in visionary exaltation she had felt a similar ecstacy. At such times the neighbours speaking to her had received no answer, so had held her a little crazed with goodness. Then Lisa added a prayer to the sweetest peasant Mother to shield her, the peasant maid. So she lay down again quieted and comforted, and dreamt that child-angels, with faces like B£be and the little ones, hovered dose round smiling to her. And the lily, too, revived in the moonlight, and swayed with the cool faint night breeze—for its evil thing had crawled away.
CHAPTER 111. It was a Sunday morning; and what a fair fresh morning, as the sweet peasant Lily of Yaucourt pushed open her little leaded lattice.
- .In the night it had rained heavily on the dry earth, and now the August sun was drawing up a rich steaming incense of mists and scents, like a service of thanksgiving to the Giver, mingled with the hum and songs and calls of insects and birds and beasts.
There was six glorious flowers on her lily, which she could touch from the window.
Hey ! but it was a joy to see. Six, and the seventh bud would open its eyes on the world to-day, and the next to-morrow, and the ninth and last on her own wedding day. What a happy omen ! Both the lilies of the mill would look their bravest, as the good Cur£ had told her, and remembering what he had added of the lilies of Solomon, she meekly tried to forget how beautiful her new wedding dress seemed; each time she peeped in the drawer where it lay neatly folded. And Jacques, her own Jacques 1 surely handsomest, best, and strongest of all the young men of Vaucourt, had even remembered her wish and hasted to atone for his strange refusal that night when his fall had made him so unlike himself. The very next evening he had settled with her they should see the wonders of the forest this happy day. If a little wild, somewhat too fond of pleasure, as some hinted, yet who dearer; who so loved her that at times it even well-nigh frightened her? That afternoon Jacques was standing near his hut, waiting; and watching the opening of the trees by which he knew the folk from the mill must come up. A strangely different man he looked from Lisa’s generally gentlemannered lover, with whom she never had cause to be vexed, save on that one evening recorded lately. There was uneasiness in his expression as he glanced round the tiny glade; now and then a black scowl of impatient anger and a sullen joining of the brows, which one poor girl would have turned white to her lips to see. Never a one of the honest Vaucourt lads could have looked like that.
The hut was only a rude cabin in the forest meant to shelter Jacques himself and a companion, when their work lay toofar from Vaucourtto allowof their returning thither at night. It was built against the hill which rose steeply behind, rough and rocky, and clothed with trees and brushwood. Around, the ground was flat, the sunbeams straggled down on a little grassy opening where the wild strawberries grew thick at the base of the rocks, but under the close trees on either side the earth was always bare and brown, or if hidden, only by dead leaves. The woodcutter kept moving restlessly, and at last walked back to his hut, stood in the middle looked all round, with close scrutiny up and down.
It was the third or fourth time he had already done so. Nothing in the bare-earthen floor to see ; only axes, and implements in one corner; two rude beds, a stool, and one, bench, which served for both chairs and table. That, and a few cooking utensils on a shelf, was all apparently that could be noticed. But Jacques’ strongly marked sallow face was turned upwards to the rafters and rough shingle roof overhead. Standing in one position with his head thrown far back, could he not just catch sight there of a blue line protruding ? It might have been fancy, yet, with an oath, he stood on the stool, and reaching, pushed deeper into a hole what felt like a handkerchief full of hard objects., Next, he stooped and peered . up the sooty chimney, pulled one bed so as to cover better part of the floor, and returned into the air and sunshine with a breath of relief. ‘ She will seenothing. But what a risk !’ he muttered.; * She suspected something, however, and with such a saint a breath might yet frighten her. Only to-morrow-then I have her fast. No more eternal prayers then, my pretty bird. But that I had sworn to get hold of you, body and soul, how they would have wearied me !’ , ;
A malignant smile came on hisface ; then, as poor Lisa’s purity and goodness rose before his mind, it passed, and with a disgusted desperation he drew his big hand over his eyes and brow. She must find out something sooner or later . . . and then . . . and then . . no matter! He would have her. Part and parcel of his black self, she would be without escape—without relief till death—evenif she grew to loathe him. Just then all the gay troop were toiling, with laughter and snatches of village refrains, up through the forest by the stony track, which was often a torrent’s bed in winter. Up and up they had come , through the pleasant shadow of great branches, or where the sunlight flecked the big beech trunks and rougher oaks ; past thickets, from which sometimes a hare sprang out and vanished, making the children whoop for joy, or where the tall ferns grew and scented sweet brier blushed, Lisa had her hands full of pale pinkblossomed branches, while the children’s chubby fists had been buried in patches of wood-ruff, or wild anemone, whose frail blossoms they flung into the cart, and then jumped for joy on the soft - carpets of pale green cup-moss, though Lisa stepped aside to hurt naught. . ( To be continued.) I
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LISA., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 327, 25 April 1881
LISA. Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 327, 25 April 1881
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