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LISA., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 329, 27 April 1881
CHAPTER IV. — Continued. Her sno,vy cap and kerchief came through the bushes, and Bebe escaping rushed to her, grasping her lilac cotton skirt tight; burying his head in her white apron. ‘He was terrified at being alone,’ said Jacques, looking with sombre eyes at both. ‘ I blame myself for not watching the child better. He found something, my Lis, which I had meant as a surprise for you. If he wishes to tell you, and that you listen co him, I shall not think you love me very much. ‘ Why no !’ said Lisa, with a gentle persuasive emphasis, taking the child’s head softly between her hands. ‘We will not talk about it, eh ! little heart ? we will not be unkind to dear Jacques.’ ‘ No, no, no,’whispered poor Bebe, whose little body felt utterly jaded and heavy after the long day and that last long, long run; an awful dead weight of terror on his mind, but silenced now into a horrified quietness, the meaning of which Lisa never guessed. So she gave him some small wild scarlet strawberries she had picked ; and took him in her lap in the cart as they went back; and praised him for being good, never noticing in her happiness, the fixed stare in his wide infant eyes. And the way homeward was very pleasant, downhill through the forest, for Jacques went too and was soblythe. None sang so gaily as he, and big Pierre himself looked at him with a warm glow of genuine admiration, when the woodcutter clapped that good lad on the back. Nay ! when Lisa wished to walk a little, while the other children took a ride, he even seized Bebe and carried him pick-a-back by way of a change. ‘ How good you are—but how good you are—,’ whispered loving tones in his ear, while the miller slowly turned his broad Flemish face smiling upon them, and bade Jean take warning and only grow up such another. But Bebe in his ungrateful little heart would rather have clasped his short arms round a gallows tree than round that strong brown neck he held to so reluctantly, with a childish aversion, which yet, through some strange influence, he must have died rather than have told.
As they came through the scattered, cosy, little hamlet of Vaucourt, they halted a few moments to chat with the loungers near some booths on the village green. The Vaucourt Kermesse began on the morrow, but as yet only three little wooden gimcrack shops had been put up; bright with polished coppers and gaudy red and blue glass pipkins for aerated waters. Towards one of these Jacques moved lazily off, to buy sweetmeats, as he said, for the child. But, as he looked over his shoulder, his eyes grew darker as it were and more close, the only sign of a hidden savage wrath, for Pierre was closely following. Perhaps that honest overgrown lad had a secret longing for the yellow saffron cakes the sturdy Brabant wife was loudly recommending from behind her counter, or that he could not understand why Jacques, whom he stupidly worshipped, could ever wish him from his elbow.
‘ What is that you are pulling out ?’ he bluntly asked, staring at a little leaden thing which seemed hung round the woodcutter’s neck, and that he had drawn from its hiding place and held half concealed in his hand. Jacques took the colored paper horn of comfits from the vendor.
‘ What is it ? —what is it ? —can you not see, it is only a blessed medal that I have a trick of fingering at times,’ he growled with an oath which only heightened Pierre’s admiration. ‘ Good mother ! give this fine young man some raspberry brandy.’ But as the woman turned to pour out the luscious dark liquid, while Pierre greedily watched her, neither saw’ the woodcutter’s fingers again doing something with his leaden relic.
Like a giant refreshed, Pierre joined the others, yet Jacques, though he had taken a far deeper draught from the woman’s hands, had grown moody and silent.
Silent still! during the supper in the mill kitchen, where the old grandmother awaited them; but in the clatter of children’s tongues recounting the day’s adventures in strong Flemish, none heeded much the woodcutter.
Bebe was silent too, but then he was tired out, as all knew; so he sat on Lisa’s Jap with his heavy little head on her breast. And Jacques’ eyes were always furtively upon them. As was their wont, he moved after supper to the deep casement, where Lisa joined him, while he gazed at the wheel with vacant eyes. Should he do it? Should he not? His life hung on what?—a child’s lisping speech ! Fool! why did he doubt; what so unnerved him that he could not act with decision ? Should he do it ? Should he not ?
‘ I fear our little one was sorely frightened in the forest: there is a look in his dear eyes which pains me,’ said a sweet troubled voice, quite low, to him alone. (She felt sure he would share her fears, however small; poor soul !) Yet he said nothing. Nothing for some moments. While his body was still standing there by the deep lattice in the old mill kitchen, the last red sunlight falling on his strong dark head, what ghastly conflict was in that mind, darkened as by the mighty wings of evil powers obscuring the light, struggling with fainting holier instincts tor awfulsupremacy—alas! rapidly triumphing within his heart in gathering blackness ? Who could guess ?
In such moments of silence we decide for —it may be—eternity.
‘ He—Jje Js not exactly sick you say ? - Excited,' perhaps. Keep him from saying anything talking too much, I mean. . . . And, Lisa, you may give him these comfits I bought for him; they will make him quiet.’ ‘ You are so good, dear Jacques. You bought these because you know I love the child.’
‘Stay one moment.’ He held her arm. ‘ Which do you love best, him or me ? Think of it, Lisa. Which, did, for example, death come for one of us (a wild fancy, you know), but which could you best lose ?’- ■ ‘ Oh, Jacques,’ she quietly said, with ■ grieved awe at such a strange, terrible ’ imagining, ‘what can I say? I Ipve him so dearly, for. he is to me a| times like one of the infant angels,smiling jr» ~ beautiful pictures at the Holy. Mother jt and her little Boy—but you are different, and like the whole world to' * me.’ ' ’’
That was enough. He loosed his hold and turned again to the window ; she had herself so decided it. For a moment or so she stood silently looking up at him; then, warned to leave him by some fine instinct, quietly glided away to put Bebe in his cot. The stars were coming out to ; light 1 i faintly the dusky night sky when: the ; lovers parted. They lingered round the corner of the mill, where was the ’ little strip of flowers against the south wall, and the sleepy columbines and. / marigolds and sweet prim lavender"’ watched them and listened, while the great lily with her glorious flowers, like ■; a spire hung with bells, drooped her. 1 head with a little rustling sigh as she L bent to the nigh airs ; but the double : red and white daises had theif eyeS ; tight shut. ' ‘ No, I cannot come to-morrow, Lisa —it is impossible; so we shall not meet again, my girl, till ’ ‘ Till our wedding-day, the morrow after; is it not so?’ she sweetly answered, looking more lily-like than ever, as straight, and slim, and tall in, her Flemish costume, she stood’: wilhr"’ aaK her two hands lightly dashed on Iris? arm, looking up at the strong, swarthy man; herself like the spirit of the fading light—he of the coming darkness. ‘ Strange, is it not, deaf Jacques, bat
to-night I feel as if it were not coming the very morning after next, but put far off instead—far as eternity.’ ‘ If so, let me look well at you now,’ he answered; yet he had never taken his eyes from her. Dark, pitiless, with but a smallest spark of red glow to mark the evil spirit far within, they kept her in their power. ‘ But what shall stop you from being mine, Lisa? Listen ; should aught so happen —should it be postponed tiH this eternity you talk of—would you , dare swear to me now' that you will 1 never be any other man’s wife.’. : . ; ‘Ah, I should tremble to swear, - Jacques, only I promise! I promise before the Blessed Mother and all the saints. But,oh!’ she cried under.her breath, while her voice shook; *it is easy to say that, for without you 1 believe they would never be so cruel as not to ask the good God to take me home —to live there ; but not any more down here.’
He wanted to make so sure of her, to bind her still faster, that he never cared how he hurt that tender soul in drawing tight his cruel cords. * And in your eternity, what then ? No doubt you could be happy in your paradise while I might be in the torments of purgatory, a poor devil amongst devils.’
It was nothing to him, who mocjted : - all sacred creeds, so to speak; bat as h that face, dearest to her of, all human faces, looked intently in hers, while, unconsciously, he tightened his grasp, , , she gave a little pitiful cry, for her troubled soul was like a hied struggling in the lowler’s snare. ‘Do not torture me. Ah ! i f you too loved me, wppld, you not wish to gain paradise also ? And,, if not —oh ! I dare not love you better than the good God . . .. . Only ; I think I could never be aught but sad through the long countless ages. Yet I trust Him.’ ' v
Her voice died away in a half sob; but there was faith still unquenched in her eyes, faith for what she could not understand. :
‘ls it so ?’ he said, with a touch of scorn, she never even suspected. * Well, well; at least I shall have had my day. And now, be happy again, my lily saint, for I swear to you after our wed-ding-day we shall strive to think perforce, on all holy subjects.’ Cheered by so little, she did grow happy after a while. When they bade each other adieu by the rough garden gate; under the night’s shadows she stood listening, tp the sound of his footsteps down the forest path, and her pure heart cried out m gratefulness to the Mother who had given her so blessed a day ! One long day, as perfectly happy as any day could be on earth.
She stopped to kiss each one of the broad-breasted lilies and whisper her happiness to her namesakes; and their strong scent filled her nostrils and rose as in fumes, making giddy her happy brain, for you could smell those lilies almost down by the little footbridge And then, in the darkness, she heard Matron’s voice call her from the threshold of the kitchen door, so answered and went in. (To be continued.)
LISA., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 329, 27 April 1881
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