CHAPTER lll.— Continued. Then she sat in the light cart with Bebe, and made oak leaf garlands to wind round the miller’s hat and those of their boy cousins, and the rest stuck branches all round the cart and harness. When Jacques first caught sight of the mule’s red woollen rosettes, it seemed as if behind her a green bower were coming towards him. ‘ Why did you bring these cousins ?’ he asked Lisa, in an abrupt aside, glancing with small pleasure at the lads of fifteen and sixteen who, with big oak sticks in their I hands, were giving themselves manly airs, now that the first eager chatter and welcomes were over. Then he added, trying to smile, * What do the .children mean to do with those cudgels ? Well ! all are welcome, though I only care for my Lily’s company.’ ‘ And have you not heard the strange gossip of Vaucourt ?’ she was answering with earnestnes, yet timidity, fearing his ridicule, when old Armand broke in, jovial as ever; and looking so well, as Lisa fondly thought, in his Sunday clothes. ‘ Eh ! he ! keep the gossip to give relish to our meal by-and-by. Let us first see the hut, my son, and amuse ourselves finely; then we shall feast, and lastly,’ with a sly laugh, ‘ the old man will dose a little, as on most Sunday afternoons, while the young folk sit by and whisper wise things.’ So they all did as he said, and the little ones, like escaped school children, ran about helter-skelter. Jacques watched them, quietly smiling; yet the veins at times swelled in his forehead.
And Lisa ? Oh ! how happy she was !
Her kind Jacques kept close by her side, calling her attention to everything ; to the tall poplar there, the spire among the trees, which when the sunbeams touched they knew it was time for work; the spring here that escaped from under a rock in the hill hard by the cabin. Meanwhile, she smiled, looking with such fond pride in his face.
He watdied, so like a good elder
brother, over the little ones, and laughingly asked her, who alone could control B£bd, not to let the child meddle much in the hut, since Nicholas, his comrade, had not so easy a temper as himself. •Of course,’ and Lisa held tight the little urchin’s fat hand; then asked, ‘ And where is Nicholas ?’ ‘ He has left me since some days. The forester thinks he is cross-grained, and may not return.’ ‘Ah ! but that is an unkind speech. No doubt he is only gone for a day or so to some merry-making, and is amusing himself so much he forgets coming back. Why do you laugh so ? Am I not right ?’ For Jacques’ long slit eyes were looking peculiarly at her ; and as she spoke, some inward joke seemed to tickle his fancy immensely, he laughed with such relish. But all he would say was, ‘You are always right, sweetheart. Who ever heard of the Lily of the Mill being wrong?’ Then, when they had joyously gone all round the little meadow, Manon, who domineered over her two cousins, made Pierre, the biggest, light a little fire to roast some potatoes in their brown skins. But first these had to be washed, and some of the children did this while the others gathered sticks. Lisa, meanwhile, moved among them, the sweet spirit who directed all. They laid the cloth, bleached snow white on their own mill-green, in the shade, and out of the cart were brought a big white loaf and large thin pats apiece of golden butter; fine red radishes to give all a flavor, and a tall pewter-topped jug of milk, which Manon rushed to examine with important care upon her brow. ‘lt had been so jolted coming up, she almost expected to see it churned.’ Then Father Arman d produced one bottle of red wine, and Jacques another. Pierre screamed that his potatoes were jumping out of their coats with heat, and merrily they all ate.
‘Hi ! ’ said Bebe, with his mouth full of bread and butter, while he grasped a mug of milk and eyed a potatoe already as his very own, ‘ but it tastes good.’ ‘ And now for our strange tale from Vaucourt,’ lustily cried the miller. ‘ Some more wine, Lisa ? You got frightened for Jacques when you heard it, my girl, but look at him now, and say whether a man with those thews and sinews in his arms—ay! and shoulders fit to carry all my sacks, is likely to be set upon by a highway tramp as was this young English doctor?
‘ The tale goes so—if you have not already heard it. No? Well, a fortnight ago a young fellow of an Englishman, on some foolish walking tour, was coming by the high-road through the forest—thinking of nothing. Pouf! He is attacked by two cowardly blackguards—a terrible scrimmage ensues—but at last off he gets, having disabled one and had a hot tussel rolling over on the earth, whilst he and the other fought like wild beasts. He escaped, as I say, and flying on met at last with our good Cure, who, seeing him drop down in a faint, had him taken to Vaucourt. But all senses failed the youth. He lay ill, and nobody could guess who had attacked him. Only a day ago he recovered, and frightened all the womenfolk by his story.’ ‘ But had they come upon us to-day, we should have soon thrashed them, as flails do straw,’ cried Pierre, vaporing, with a sense of manliness.
‘ Pity of them if they had, and pity you have no chance of trying,’ was all Jacques said, with that queer low chuckle, which made Pierre look foolish ; for it was not the loud blustering mirth he best understood. ‘ But, dear Jacques,’ shyly whispered Lisa, turning her dark fawn’s eyes up to his, with some fright, ‘ they do say a girl was seen to come from the town by that same forest road —and never came back ! ’ ‘ Then perhaps she went straight on, little one; and may she like wherever she is,’ said 'Jacques, looking steadily back in her eyes. ‘ Come away and talk to me.’
For they had finished eating, and the miller was lying under a tree, smoking and lazily dreaming, being but half awake; while Pierre (because he was almost a man), could not play, laid
stretched flat beside him, with his hat over his eyes.\ Manon, careful soul, had put all the scraps back in the cart, and now, her mind relieved, was running with the children, playing cachecache round the stacks of winter faggots. Jacques and Lisa wandered away. ‘ Your hair is silkier and blacker than even the forester’s red-cheeked Jeannette’s —for all her pride,’ he lightly said, touching the tresses where they hid under her snow white cap; then added in a changed, more reverend tone, ‘ but your face is more like Our Lady, as I saw her once looking out from a picture in a gallery at Ghent’ So they talked and wandered a little, somewhat losing sight of the rest. -
But B£b£ wandered too. ■ It was his turn now to be hidden, and jump out like a wolf, which he liked best, for it made his little heart quake when the others surprised hint-, self from some unsuspected bush. Now he would hide far off—quite far—and be distinguished. So he trotted manfully through the trees, till of a sudden the sense of solitude overpowered him, and he remembered the—robbers. He felt inclined to cry. He would run back to Lisa and tell her he did not like it, and that Manon must hide So he did run, and his little wooden sabots seemed to drag him back in his anxiety. Here was a thicket he could not
remember; without knowing' it the child had only run deeper among the trees; but he fancied he saw a way through the branches, so pushed on, . then stopped _ . : Had Jacques been planting anything here? was his first, thought; the brown earth was so soft and scratched and turned up. But there was a hole as if ; a very great big rabbit had been working at its burrow-making. There were tracks on the soft mould. The child looked, then seized a stick with a determined air, for he would poke it far in and frighten that rabbit, perhaps make it jump out, so catch it in his chubby =- arms. He never guessed what tracks those sharp ones were, but peeped into the burrow. He did . see something that smelt nasty, and without knowing why, poor T Bebb felt rather sick; still, being full of curiosity, he went bh diligently and valiantly poking away the lose earth frbm that protruding something—saw it partly!—and, with a horrified cry, stretched out his little arras and fled, as for his little life.
CHAPTER IV. On ran little Bdb£ through the forest, trying to scream for Pierre ! Jean ! Manon ! —above all his dear protecting Lisa, but gasping for breath so much that his outcries < could not have been heard. Then the sound of Jacques’ voice, far away, calling him, caught the child’s ear ; he stopped, turned, and then tried to run in that direction, though his small knees, were flagging under him, and he stumbled as he went. Nevertheless, as Jacques’ calls came ever nearer, his courage returned a little. As the woodcutter came in sight fatigue made Bdbe run slower and slower, till at last all he could do was to drag his sabots wearily along. Jacques looked at the child, and then, stopping dead short, leant his back against a tree. ‘ Where have you been ? ’ B£bd stood panting in front of the big man, his close-cropped little. bare head, his blue eyes wide, his-sturdy short legs somewhat apart. He could get out no word, yet, however, for those hundred yards he had run, com-* bined with the fright, had left no breath in his little body. Only his round baby face looked up piteously in that of the woodcutter. ‘ What did you see ? ’
Now Bdbd could answer; he gave a final great pant, ‘ A rabbit-hole, the biggest you ever saw—and the rabbit’s tracks—so ! ’ He spread out his five little brown fingers wide, while, awestricken, his blue eyes grew wider ringed with white.
‘ Hein ! A wolf! How I - should have cried, Beb6, had it eaten you.’ At the deep strange tone and the awful look in those dark eyes looking so queerly and close into his, B£b6, who held the woodcutter in secret but terrible dread, felt his infant heart sink within him. The corners of his roseleaf mouth curled down preparatory to a howl.
‘No noise,’ said the other. ‘ What else?’
‘ Something sticking out; nasty and ' dead ! ’ — Here terror broke down the little man’s dread of Jacques’ last command, and the childish tempest of sobs burst 4 out, while he stuffed the backs of his dimpled fists into his eyes. Such a look, as of a demoniac, came into that man’s face, that it was well for the infant his eyes never saw it.
The child’s neck was so fat and white, creased in little folds! A nervous cruel hand was gripping convulsively—only gripping the air as yet —while it hung by its master’s side. Just then —well for Beb6, since passions are devils—just then a sweet voice, clear as the angelus, rang through the trees. ‘ Jac-que! Jac-que 1 where are you then, and have you found my Bebe safe ? ’ He caught the child fast in a grip that frightened Bebe into sudden stillness. * Listen, little one. I had a pretty dog for Lisa, but it died, and I buried it there —and the wolf came to eat it. If you tell anyone I will cut that soft little throat of yours with this sharp knife—see ! but if you are good I will give you nice comfits.’ ‘ I’ll—only—tell—Lisa,’ with one last convulsive gasp of terror that could struggle no more, and became almost idiocy at sight of that darkly imbrued hunting knife. ‘ Not Lisa, for she would cry. Not Lisa ! (To be continued.)
Permanent link to this item
Ashburton Guardian, Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 328, 26 April 1881
LISA. Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 328, 26 April 1881
Using This Item
See our copyright guide for information on how you may use this title.