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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesBebee; Or, Two Little Wooden Shoes - Chapter II
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Bebee; Or, Two Little Wooden Shoes - Chapter II Post by :AaronSnider Category :Long Stories Author :Ouida Date :April 2012 Read :1070

Click below to download : Bebee; Or, Two Little Wooden Shoes - Chapter II (Format : PDF)

Bebee; Or, Two Little Wooden Shoes - Chapter II

The two years had not been all playtime any more than they had been all summer.

When one has not father, or mother, or brother, and all one's friends have barely bread enough for themselves, life cannot be very easy, nor its crusts very many at any time.

Bebee had a cherub's mouth, and a dreamer's eyes, and a poet's thoughts sometimes in her own untaught and unconscious fashion.

But all the same she was a little hard-working Brabant peasant girl; up whilst the birds twittered in the dark; to bed when the red sun sank beyond the far blue line of the plains; she hoed, and dug, and watered, and planted her little plot; she kept her cabin as clean as a fresh-blossomed primrose; she milked her goat and swept her floor; she sat, all the warm days, in the town, selling her flowers, and in the winter time, when her garden yielded her nothing, she strained her sight over lace-making in the city to get the small bit of food that stood between her and that hunger which to the poor means death.

A hard life; very hard when hail and snow made the streets of Brussels like slopes of ice; a little hard even in the gay summer time when she sat under the awning fronting the Maison du Roi; but all the time the child throve on it, and was happy, and dreamed of many graceful and gracious things whilst she was weeding among her lilies, or tracing the threads to and fro on her lace pillow.

Now--when she woke to the full sense of her wonderful sixteen years--Bebee, standing barefoot on the mud floor, was as pretty a sight as was to be seen betwixt Scheldt and Rhine.

The sun had only left a soft warmth like an apricot's on her white skin. Her limbs, though strong as a mountain pony's, were slender and well shaped. Her hair curled in shiny crumpled masses, and tumbled about her shoulders. Her pretty round plump little breast was white as the lilies in the grass without, and in this blooming time of her little life, Bebee, in her way, was beautiful as a peach-bloom is beautiful, and her innocent, courageous, happy eyes had dreams in them underneath their laughter, dreams that went farther than the green woods of Laeken, farther even than the white clouds of summer.

She could not move among them idly as poets and girls love to do; she had to be active amidst them, else drought and rain, and worm and snail, and blight and frost, would have made havoc of their fairest hopes.

The loveliest love is that which dreams high above all storms, unsoiled by all burdens; but perhaps the strongest love is that which, whilst it adores, drags its feet through mire, and burns its brow in heat, for the thing beloved.

So Bebee dreamed in her garden; but all the time for sake of it hoed and dug, and hurt her hands, and tired her limbs, and bowed her shoulders under the great metal pails from the well.

This wondrous morning, with the bright burden of her sixteen years upon her, she dressed herself quickly and fed her fowls, and, happy as a bird, went to sit on her little wooden stool in the doorway.

There had been fresh rain in the night: the garden was radiant; the smell of the wet earth was sweeter than all perfumes that are burned in palaces.

The dripping rosebuds nodded against her hair as she went out; the starling called to her, "Bebee, Bebee--bonjour, bonjour." These were all the words it knew. It said the same words a thousand times a week. But to Bebee it seemed that the starling most certainly knew that she was sixteen years old that day.

Breaking her bread into the milk, she sat in the dawn and thought, without knowing that she thought it, "How good it is to live when one is young!"

Old people say the same thing often, but they sigh when they say it. Bebee smiled.

Mere Krebs opened her door in the next cottage, and nodded over the wall.

"What a fine thing to be sixteen!--a merry year, Bebee."

Marthe, the carpenter's wife, came out from her gate, broom in hand.

"The Holy Saints keep you, Bebee; why, you are quite a woman now!"

The little children of Varnhart, the charcoal-burner, who were as poor as any mouse in the old churches, rushed out of their little home up the lane, bringing with them a cake stuck full of sugar and seeds, and tied round with a blue ribbon, that their mother had made that very week, all in her honor.

"Only see, Bebee! Such a grand cake!" they shouted, dancing down the lane. "Jules picked the plums, and Jeanne washed the almonds, and Christine took the ribbon off her own communion cap, all for you--all for you; but you will let us come and eat it too?"

Old Gran'mere Bishot, who was the oldest woman about Laeken, hobbled through the grass on her crutches and nodded her white shaking head, and smiled at Bebee.

"I have nothing to give you, little one, except my blessing, if you care for that."

Bebee ran out, breaking from the children, and knelt down in the wet grass, and bent her pretty sunny head to the benediction.

Trine, the miller's wife, the richest woman of them all, called to the child from the steps of the mill,--'

"A merry year, and the blessing of Heaven, Bebee! Come up, and here is my first dish of cherries for you; not tasted one myself; they will make you a feast with Varnhart's cake, though she should have known better, so poor as she is. Charity begins at home, and these children's stomachs are empty."

Bebee ran up and then down again gleefully, with her lapful of big black cherries; Tambour, the old white dog, who had used to drag her about in his milk cart, leaping on her in sympathy and congratulation.

"What a supper we will have!" she cried to the charcoal-burner's children, who were turning somersaults in the dock leaves, while the swans stared and hissed.

When one is sixteen, cherries and a cake have a flavor of Paradise still, especially when they are tasted twice, or thrice at most, in all the year.

An old man called to her as she went by his door. All these little cabins lie close together, with only their apple-trees, or their tall beans, or their hedges of thorn between them; you may ride by and never notice them if you do not look for them under the leaves closely, as you would for thrushes' nests.

He, too, was very old; a lifelong neighbor and gossip of Antoine's; he had been a day laborer in these same fields all his years, and had never travelled farther than where the red mill-sails turned among the colza and the corn.

"Come in, my pretty one, for a second," he whispered, with an air of mystery that made Bebee's heart quicken with expectancy. "Come in; I have something for you. They were my dead daughter's--you have heard me talk of her--Lisette, who died forty year or more ago, they say; for me I think it was yesterday. Mere Krebs--she is a hard woman--heard me talking of my girl. She burst out laughing, 'Lord's sake, fool, why, your girl would be sixty now an she had lived.' Well, so it may be; you see, the new mill was put up the week she died, and you call the new mill old; but, my girl, she is young to me. Always young. Come here, Bebee."

Bebee went after him a little awed, into the dusky interior, that smelt of stored apples and of dried herbs that hung from the roof. There was a walnut-wood press, such as the peasants of France and the low countries keep their homespun linen in and their old lace that serves for the nuptials and baptisms of half a score of generations.

The old man unlocked it with a trembling hand, and there came from it an odor of dead lavender and of withered rose leaves.

On the shelves there were a girl's set of clothes, and a girl's sabots, and a girl's communion veil and wreath.

"They are all hers," he whispered,--"all hers. And sometimes in the evening time I see her coming along the lane for them--do you not know? There is nothing changed; nothing changed; the grass, and the trees, and the huts, and the pond are all here; why should she only be gone away?"

"Antoine is gone."

"Yes. But he was old; my girl is young."

He stood a moment, with the press door open, a perplexed trouble in his dim eyes; the divine faith of love and the mule-like stupidity of ignorance made him cling to this one thought without power of judgment in it.

"They say she would be sixty," he said, with a little dreary smile. "But that is absurd, you know. Why, she had cheeks like yours, and she would run--no lapwing could fly faster over corn. These are her things, you see; yes--all of them. That is the sprig of sweetbrier she wore in her belt the day before the wagon knocked her down and killed her. I have never touched the things. But look here, Bebee, you are a good child and true, and like her just a little. I mean to give you her silver clasps. They were her great-great-great-grandmother's before her. God knows how old they are not. And a girl should have some little wealth of that sort; and for Antoine's sake--"

The old man stayed behind, closing the press door upon the lavender-scented clothes, and sitting down in the dull shadow of the hut to think of his daughter, dead forty summers and more.

Bebee went out with the brave broad silver clasps about her waist, and the tears wet on her cheeks for a grief not her own.

To be killed just when one was young, and was loved liked that, and all the world was in its May-day flower! The silver felt cold to her touch--as cold as though it were the dead girl's hands that held her.

The garlands that the children strung of daisies and hung about her had never chilled her so.

But little Jeanne, the youngest of the charcoal-burner's little tribe, running to meet her, screamed with glee, and danced in the gay morning.

"Oh, Bebee! how you glitter! Did the Virgin send you that off her own altar? Let me see--let me touch! Is it made of the stars or of the sun?"

And Bebee danced with the child, and the silver gleamed and sparkled, and all the people came running out to see, and the milk carts were half an hour later for town, and the hens cackled loud unfed, and the men even stopped on their way to the fields and paused, with their scythes on their shoulders, to stare at the splendid gift.

"There is not such another set of clasps in Brabant; old work you could make a fortune of in the curiosity shops in the Montagne," said Trine Krebs, going up the steps of her mill house. "But, all the same, you know, Bebee, things off a dead body bring mischance sometimes."

But Bebee danced with the child, and did not hear.

Whose fete day had ever begun like this one of hers?

She was a little poet at heart, and should not have cared for such vanities; but when one is only sixteen, and has only a little rough woollen frock, and sits in the market place or the lace-room, with other girls around, how should one be altogether indifferent to a broad, embossed, beautiful shield of silver that sparkled with each step one took?

A quarter of an hour idle thus was all, however, that Bebee or her friends could spare at five o'clock on a summer morning, when the city was waiting for its eggs, its honey, its flowers, its cream, and its butter, and Tambour was shaking his leather harness in impatience to be off with his milk-cans.

So Bebee, all holiday though it was, and heroine though she felt herself, ran indoors, put up her cakes and cherries, cut her two basketfuls out of the garden, locked her hut, and went on her quick and happy little feet along the grassy paths toward the city.

The sorting and tying up of the flowers she always left until she was sitting under the awning in front of the Broodhuis; the same awning, tawny as an autumn pear and weather-blown as an old sail, which had served to shelter Antoine Maees from heat and rain through all the years of his life.

"Go to the Madeleine; you will make money there, with your pretty blue eyes, Bebee," people had said to her of late; but Bebee had shaken her head.

Where she had sat in her babyhood at Antoine's feet, she would sit so long as she sold flowers in Brussels,--here, underneath the shadow of the Gothic towers that saw Egmont die.

Old Antoine had never gone into the grand market that is fashioned after the Madeleine of Paris, and where in the cool, wet, sweet-smelling halls, all the flowers of Brabant are spread in bouquets fit for the bridal of Una, and large as the shield of the Red-Cross Knight.

Antoine could not compete with all those treasures of greenhouse and stove. He had always had his little stall among those which spread their tawny awnings and their merry hardy blossoms under the shadow of the Hotel de Ville, in the midst of the buyings and sellings, the games and the quarrels, the auctions and the Cheap Johns, the mountebank and the marriage parties, that daily and hourly throng the Grande Place.

Here Bebee, from three years old, had been used to sit beside him. By nature she was as gay as a lark. The people always heard her singing as they passed the garden. The children never found their games so merry as when she danced their rounds with them; and though she dreamed so much out there in the air among the carnations and the roses, or in the long, low workroom in the town, high against the crocketed pinnacles of the cathedral, yet her dreams, if vaguely wistful, were all bright of hue and sunny in their fantasies. Still, Bebee had one sad unsatisfied desire: she wanted to know so much, and she knew nothing.

She did not care for the grand gay people.

When the band played, and the park filled, and the bright little cafes were thronged with pleasure seekers, and the crowds flocked hither and thither to the woods, to the theatres, to the galleries, to the guinguettes, Bebee, going gravely along with her emptied baskets homeward, envied none of these.

When at Noel the little children hugged their loads of puppets and sugar-plums; when at the Fete Dieu the whole people flocked out be-ribboned and vari-colored like any bed of spring anemones; when in the merry midsummer the chars-a-bancs trundled away into the forest with laughing loads of students and maidens; when in the rough winters the carriages left furred and jewelled women at the doors of the operas or the palaces,--Bebee, going and coming through the city to her flower stall or lace work, looked at them all, and never thought of envy or desire.

She had her little hut: she could get her bread; she lived with the flowers; the neighbors were good to her, and now and then, on a saint's day, she too got her day in the woods; it never occurred to her that her lot could be better.

But sometimes sitting, looking at the dark old beauty of the Broodhuis, or at the wondrous carven fronts of other Spanish houses, or at the painted stories of the cathedral windows, or at the quaint colors of the shipping on the quay, or at the long dark aisles of trees that went away through the forest, where her steps had never wandered,--sometimes Bebee would get pondering on all this unknown world that lay before and behind and around her, and a sense of her own utter ignorance would steal on her; and she would say to herself, "If only I knew a little--just a very little!"

But it is not easy to know even a very little when you have to work for your bread from sunrise to nightfall, and when none of your friends know how to read or write, and even your old priest is one of a family of peasants, and can just teach you the alphabet, and that is all. For Father Francis could do no more than this; and all his spare time was taken up in digging his cabbage plot and seeing to his beehives; and the only books that Bebee ever beheld were a few tattered lives of saints that lay moth-eaten on a shelf of his cottage.

But Brussels has stones that are sermons, or rather that are quaint, touching, illuminated legends of the Middle Ages, which those who run may read.

Brussels is a gay little city that lies as bright within its girdle of woodland as any butterfly that rests upon moss.

The city has its ways and wiles of Paris. It decks itself with white and gold. It has music under its trees and soldiers in its streets, and troops marching and countermarching along its sunny avenues. It has blue and pink, and yellow and green, on its awnings and on its house fronts. It has a merry open-air life on its pavements at little marble tables before little gay-colored cafes. It has gilded balconies, and tossing flags, and comic operas, and leisurely pleasure seekers, and tries always to believe and make the world believe that it is Paris in very truth.

But this is only the Brussels of the noblesse and the foreigners.

There is a Brussels that is better than this--a Brussels that belongs to the old burgher life, to the artists and the craftsmen, to the master-masons of the Moyen-age, to the same spirit and soul that once filled the free men of Ghent and the citizens of Bruges and the besieged of Leyden, and the blood of Egmont and of Horn.

Down there by the water-side, where the old quaint walls lean over the yellow sluggish stream, and the green barrels of the Antwerp barges swing against the dusky piles of the crumbling bridges.

In the gray square desolate courts of the old palaces, where in cobwebbed galleries and silent chambers the Flemish tapestries drop to pieces.

In the great populous square, where, above the clamorous and rushing crowds, the majestic front of the Maison du Roi frowns against the sun, and the spires and pinnacles of the burgomaster's gathering-halls tower into the sky in all the fantastic luxuriance of Gothic fancy.

Under the vast shadowy wings of angels in the stillness of the cathedral, across whose sunny aisles some little child goes slowly all alone, laden with lilies for the Feast of the Assumption, till their white glory hides its curly head.

In all strange quaint old-world niches withdrawn from men in silent grass-grown corners, where a twelfth-century corbel holds a pot of roses, or a Gothic arch yawns beneath a wool warehouse, or a waterspout with a grinning faun's head laughs in the grim humor of the Moyen-age above the bent head of a young lace-worker.

In all these, Brussels, though more worldly than her sisters of Ghent and Bruges, and far more worldly yet than her Teuton cousins of Freiburg and Nuernberg, is still in her own way like as a monkish story mixed up with the Romaunt of the Rose; or rather like some gay French vaudeville, all fashion and jest, illustrated in old Missal manner with helm and hauberk, cope and cowl, praying knights and fighting priests, winged griffins and nimbused saints, flame-breathing dragons and enamoured princes, all mingled together in the illuminated colors and the heroical grotesque romance of the Middle Ages.

And it was this side of the city that Bebee knew; and she loved it well, and would not leave it for the market of the Madeleine.

She had no one to tell her anything, and all Antoine had ever been able to say to her concerning the Broodhuis was that it had been there in his father's time; and regarding St. Gudule, that his mother had burned many a candle before its altars for a dead brother who had been drowned off the dunes.

But the child's mind, unled, but not misled, had pondered on these things, and her heart had grown to love them; and perhaps no student of Spanish architecture, no antiquary of Moyen-age relics, loved St. Gudule and the Broodhuis as little ignorant Bebee did.

There had been a time when great dark, fierce men had builded these things, and made the place beautiful. So much she knew; and the little wistful, untaught brain tried to project itself into those unknown times, and failed, and yet found pleasure in the effort. And Bebee would say to herself as she walked the streets, "Perhaps some one will come some day who will tell me all those things."

Meanwhile, there were the flowers, and she was quite content.

Besides, she knew all the people: the old cobbler, who sat next her, and chattered all day long like a magpie; the tinker, who had come up many a summer night to drink a-glass with Antoine; the Cheap John, who cheated everybody else, but who had always given her a toy or a trinket at every Fete Dieu all the summers she had known; the little old woman, sour as a crab, who sold rosaries and pictures of saints, and little waxen Christs upon a tray; the big dogs who pulled the carts in, and lay panting all day under the rush-bottomed chairs on which the egg-wives and the fruit sellers sat, and knitted, and chaffered; nay, even the gorgeous huissier and the frowning gendarme, who marshalled the folks into order as they went up for municipal registries, or for town misdemeanors,--she knew them all; had known them all ever since she had first trotted in like a little dog at Antoine's heels.

So Bebee stayed there.

It is, perhaps, the most beautiful square in all Northern Europe, with its black timbers, and gilded carvings, and blazoned windows, and majestic scutcheons, and fantastic pinnacles. That Bebee did not know, but she loved it, and she sat resolutely in front of the Broodhuis, selling her flowers, smiling, chatting, helping the old woman, counting her little gains, eating her bit of bread at noonday like any other market girl, but at times glancing up to the stately towers and the blue sky, with a look on her face that made the old tinker and cobbler whisper together, "What does she see there?--the dead people or the angels?"

The truth was that even Bebee herself did not know very surely what she saw--something that was still nearer to her than even this kindly crowd that loved her. That was all she could have said had anybody asked her.

But none did.

No one wanted to hear what the dead said; and for the angels, the tinker and the cobbler were of opinion that one had only too much of them sculptured about everywhere, and shining on all the casements--in reverence be it spoken, of course.

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Bebee; Or, Two Little Wooden Shoes - Chapter III Bebee; Or, Two Little Wooden Shoes - Chapter III

Bebee; Or, Two Little Wooden Shoes - Chapter III
"I remembered it was your name-day, child Here are half a dozen eggs," said one of the hen wives; and the little cross woman with the pedler's tray added a waxen St. Agnes, colored red and yellow to the very life no doubt; and the old Cheap John had saved her a cage for the starling; and the tinker had a cream cheese for her in a vine-leaf, and the sweetmeat seller brought her a beautiful gilded horn of sugarplums, and the cobbler had made her actually a pair of shoes--red shoes, beautiful shoes to go to mass in and be

Bebee; Or, Two Little Wooden Shoes - Chapter I Bebee; Or, Two Little Wooden Shoes - Chapter I

Bebee; Or, Two Little Wooden Shoes - Chapter I
Bebee sprang out of bed at daybreak. She was sixteen.It seemed a very wonderful thing to be as much as that--sixteen--a woman quite.A cock was crowing under her lattice. He said how old you are!--how old you are! every time that he sounded his clarion.She opened the lattice and wished him good day, with a laugh. It was so pleasant to be woke by him, and to think that no one in all the world could ever call one a child any more.There was a kid bleating in the shed. There was a thrush singing in the dusk of the sycamore