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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesBebee; Or, Two Little Wooden Shoes - Chapter VII
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Bebee; Or, Two Little Wooden Shoes - Chapter VII Post by :mil102 Category :Long Stories Author :Ouida Date :April 2012 Read :2738

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Bebee; Or, Two Little Wooden Shoes - Chapter VII

As she got clear of the city and out on her country road, a shadow Fell across her in the evening light.

"Have you had a good day, little one?" asked a voice that made her stop with a curious vague expectancy and pleasure.

"It is you!" she said, with a little cry, as she saw her friend of the silk stockings leaning on a gate midway in the green and solitary road that leads to Laeken.

"Yes, it is I," he answered, as he joined her. "Have you forgiven me, Bebee?"

She looked at him with frank, appealing eyes, like those of a child in fault.

"Oh, I did not sleep all night!" she said, simply. "I thought I had been rude and ungrateful, and I could not be sure I had done right, though to have done otherwise would certainly have been wrong."

He laughed.

"Well, that is a clearer deduction than is to be drawn from most moral uncertainties. Do not think twice about the matter, my dear. I have not, I assure you."

"No!"

She was a little disappointed. It seemed such an immense thing to her; and she had lain awake all the night, turning it about in her little brain, and appealing vainly for help in it to the sixteen sleep-angels.

"No, indeed. And where are you going so fast, as if those wooden shoes of yours were sandals of Mercury?"

"Mercury--is that a shoemaker?"

"No, my dear. He did a terrible bit of cobbling once, when he made Woman. But he did not shoe her feet with swiftness that I know of; she only runs away to be run after, and if you do not pursue her, she comes back--always."

Bebee did not understand at all.

"I thought God made women," she said, a little awe-stricken.

"You call it God. People three thousand years ago called it Mercury or Hermes. Both mean the same thing,--mere words to designate an unknown quality. Where are you going? Does your home lie here?"

"Yes, onward, quite far onward," said Bebee, wondering that he had forgotten all she had told him the day before about her hut, her garden, and her neighbors. "You did not come and finish your picture to-day: why was that? I had a rosebud for you, but it is dead now."

"I went to Anvers. You looked for me a little, then?"

"Oh, all day long. For I was so afraid I had been ungrateful."

"That is very pretty of you. Women are never grateful, my dear, except when they are very ill-treated. Mercury, whom we were talking of, gave them, among other gifts, a dog's heart."

Bebee felt bewildered; she did not reason about it, but the idle, shallow, cynical tone pained her by its levity and its unlikeness to the sweet, still, gray summer evening.

"Why are you in such a hurry?" he pursued. "The night is cool, and it is only seven o'clock. I will walk part of the way with you."

"I am in a hurry because I have Annemie's patterns to do," said Bebee, glad that he spoke of a thing that she knew how to answer. "You see, Annemie's hand shakes and her eyes are dim, and she pricks the pattern all awry and never perceives it; it would break her heart if one showed her so, but the Baes would not take them as they are; they are of no use at all. So I prick them out myself on fresh paper, and the Baes thinks it is all her doing, and pays her the same money, and she is quite content. And as I carry the patterns to and fro for her, because she cannot walk, it is easy to cheat her like that; and it is no harm to cheat _so_, you know." He was silent.

"You are a good little girl, Bebee, I can see." he said at last, with a graver sound in his voice. "And who is this Annemie for whom you do so much? an old woman, I suppose."

"Oh, yes, quite old; incredibly old. Her man was drowned at sea sixty years ago, and she watches for his brig still, night and morning."

"The dog's heart. No doubt he beat her, and had a wife in fifty other ports."

"Oh, no!" said Bebee, with a little cry, as though the word against the dead man hurt her. "She has told me so much of him. He was as good as good could be, and loved her so, and between the voyages they were so happy. Surely that must have been sixty years now, and she is so sorry still, and still will not believe that he was drowned."

He looked down on her with a smile that had a certain pity in it.

"Well, yes; there are women like that, I believe. But be very sure, my dear, he beat her. Of the two, one always holds the whip and uses it, the other crouches."

"I do not understand," said Bebee.

"No; but you will."

"I will?--when?"

He smiled again.

"Oh--to-morrow, perhaps, or next year--or when Fate fancies."

"Or rather, when I choose," he thought to himself, and let his eyes rest with a certain pleasure on the little feet, that went beside him in the grass, and the pretty fair bosom that showed ever and again, as the frills of her linen bodice were blown back by the wind and her own quick motion.

Bebee looked also up at him; he was very handsome, and looked so to her, after the broad, blunt, characterless faces of the Walloon peasantry around her. He walked with an easy grace, he was clad in picture-like velvets, he had a beautiful poetic head, and eyes like deep brown waters, and a face like one of Jordaens' or Rembrandt's cavaliers in the galleries where she used to steal in of a Sunday, and look up at the paintings, and dream of what that world could be in which those people had lived.

"_You are of the people of Rubes' country, are you not?" she asked him.

"Of what country, my dear?"

"Of the people that live in the gold frames," said Bebee, quite seriously. "In the galleries, you know. I know a charwoman that scrubs the floors of the Arenberg Palace, and she lets me in sometimes to look; and you are just like those great gentlemen in the gold frames, only you have not a hawk and a sword, and they always have. I used to wonder where they came from, for they are not like any of us one bit, and the charwoman--she is Lisa Dredel, and lives in the street of the Pot d'Etain--always said. 'Dear heart, they all belong to Rubes' land: we never see their like nowadays.' But _you must come out of Rubes' land; at least, I think so, do you not?"

He caught her meaning; he knew that Rubes was the homely abbreviation of Rubens that all the Netherlanders used, and he guessed the idea that was reality to this little lonely fanciful mind.

"Perhaps I do," he answered her with a smile, for it was not worth his while to disabuse her thoughts of any imagination that glorified him to her. "Do you not want to see Rubes' world, little one? To see the gold and the grandeur, and the glitter of it all?--never to toil or get tired?--always to move in a pageant?--always to live like the hawks in the paintings you talk of, with silver bells hung round you, and a hood all sewn with pearls?"

"No," said Bebee, simply. "I should like to see it, just to see it, as one looks through a grating into the king's grape-houses here. But I should not like to live in it. I love my hut, and the starling, and the chickens, and what would the garden do without me? and the children, and the old Annemie? I could not anyhow, anywhere, be any happier than I am. There is only one thing I wish."

"And what is that?"

"To know something; not to be so ignorant. Just look--I can read a Little, it is true: my Hours, and the letters, and when Krebs brings in a newspaper I can read a little of it, not much. I know French well, because Antoine was French himself, and never did talk Flemish to me; and they being Netherlanders, cannot, of course, read the newspapers at all, and so think it very wonderful indeed in me. But what I want is to know things, to know all about what _was before ever I was living. St. Gudule now--they say it was built hundreds of years before; and Rubes again--they say he was a painter king in Antwerpen before the oldest, oldest woman like Annemie ever began to count time. I am sure books tell you all those things, because I see the students coming and going with them; and when I saw once the millions of books in the Rue du Musee, I asked the keeper what use they were for, and he said, 'To make men wise, my dear.' But Gringoire Bac, the cobbler, who was with me,--it was a fete day,--Bac, _he said, 'Do not you believe that, Bebee; they only muddle folks' brains; for one book tells them one thing, and another book another, and so on, till they are dazed with all the contrary lying; and if you see a bookish man, be sure you see a very poor creature who could not hoe a patch, or kill a pig, or stitch an upper-leather, were it ever so.' But I do not believe that Bac said right. Did he?"

"I am not sure. On the whole, I think it is the truest remark on literature I have ever heard, and one that shows great judgment in Bac. Well?"

"Well, sometimes, you know," said Bebee, not understanding his answer, but pursuing her thoughts confidentially,--"sometimes I talk like this to the neighbors, and they laugh at me. Because Mere Krebs says that when one knows how to spin and sweep and make bread and say one's prayers and milk a goat or a cow, it is all a woman wants to know this side of heaven. But for me, I cannot help it, when I look at those windows in the cathedral, or at those beautiful twisted little spires that are all over our Hotel de Ville, I want to know who the men were that made them,--what they did and thought,--how they looked and spoke,--how they learned to shape stone into leaves and grasses like that,--how they could imagine all those angel faces on the glass. When I go alone in the quite early morning or at night when it is still--sometimes in winter I have to stay till it is dark over the lace--I hear their feet come after me, and they whisper to me close, 'Look what beautiful things we have done, Bebee, and you all forget us quite. We did what never will die, but our names are as dead as the stones.' And then I am so sorry for them and ashamed. And I want to know more. Can you tell me?"

He looked at her earnestly; her eyes were shining, her cheeks were warm, her little mouth was tremulous with eagerness.

"Did any one ever speak to you in that way?" he asked her.

"No," she answered him. "It comes into my head of itself. Sometimes I think the cathedral angels put it there. For the angels must be tired, you know; always pointing to God and always seeing men turn away, I used to tell Antoine sometimes. But he used to shake his head and say that it was no use thinking; most likely St. Gudule and St. Michael had set the church down in the night all ready made, why not? God made the trees, and they were more wonderful, he thought, for his part. And so perhaps they are, but that is no answer. And I do _want to know. I want some one who will tell me; and if you come out of Rubes' country as I think, no doubt you know everything, or remember it?"

He smiled.

"The free pass to Rubes' country lies in books, pretty one. Shall I give you some?--nay, lend them, I mean, since giving you are too wilful to hear of without offence. You can read, you said?"

Bebee's eyes glowed as they lifted themselves to his.

"I can read--not very fast, but that would come with doing it more and more, I think, just as spinning does; one knots the thread and breaks it a million times before one learns to spin as fine as cobwebs. I have read the stories of St. Anne, and of St. Catherine, and of St. Luven fifty times, but they are all the books that Father Francis has; and no one else has any among us."

"Very well. You shall have books of mine. Easy ones first, and then those that are more serious. But what time will you have? You do so much; you are like a little golden bee."

Bebee laughed happily.

"Oh! give me the books and I will find the time. It is light so early now. That gives one so many hours. In winter one has so few one must lie in bed, because to buy a candle you know one cannot afford except, of course, a taper now and then, as one's duty is, for our Lady or for the dead. And will you really, really, lend me books?"

"Really, I will. Yes. I will bring you one to the Grande Place to-morrow, or meet you on your road there with it. Do you know what poetry is, Bebee?"

"No."

"But your flowers talk to you?"

"Ah! always. But then no one else hears them ever but me; and so no one else ever believes."

"Well, poets are folks who hear the flowers talk as you do, and the trees, and the seas, and the beasts, and even the stones; but no one else ever hears these things, and so, when the poets write them out, the rest of the world say, 'That is very fine, no doubt, but only good for dreamers; it will bake no bread.' I will give you some poetry; for I think you care more about dreams than about bread."

"I do not know," said Bebee; and she did not know, for her dreams, like her youth, and her innocence, and her simplicity, and her strength, were all unconscious of themselves, as such things must be to be pure and true at all.

Bebee had grown up straight, and clean, and fragrant, and joyous as one of her own carnations; but she knew herself no more than the carnation knows its color and its root,

"No. you do not know," said he, with a sort of pity; and thought within himself, was it worth while to let her know?

If she did not know, these vague aspirations and imaginations would drop off from her with the years of her early youth, as the lime-flowers drop downwards with the summer heats. She would forget them. They would linger a little in her head, and, perhaps, always wake at some sunset hour or some angelus chime, but not to trouble her. Only to make her cradle song a little sadder and softer than most women's was. Unfed, they would sink away and bear no blossom.

She would grow into a simple, hardy, hardworking, God-fearing Flemish woman like the rest. She would marry, no doubt, some time, and rear her children honestly and well; and sit in the market stall every day, and spin and sew, and dig and wash, and sweep, and brave bad weather, and be content with poor food to the end of her harmless and laborious days--poor little Bebee!

He saw her so clearly as she would be--if he let her alone.

A little taller, a little broader, a little browner, less sweet of voice, less soft of skin, less flower-like in face; having learned to think only as her neighbors thought, of price of wood and cost of bread; laboring cheerily but hardly from daybreak to nightfall to fill hungry mouths: forgetting all things except the little curly-heads clustered round her soup-pot, and the year-old lips sucking at her breasts.

A blameless life, an eventless life, a life as clear as the dewdrop, and as colorless; a life opening, passing, ending in the little green wooded lane, by the bit of water where the swans made their nests under the willows; a life like the life of millions, a little purer, a little brighter, a little more tender, perhaps, than those lives usually are, but otherwise as like them as one ear of barley is like another as it rises from the soil, and blows in the wind, and turns brown in the strong summer sun, and then goes down to the sod again under the sickle.

He saw her just as she would be--if he let her alone.

But should he leave her alone?

He cared nothing; only her eyes had such a pretty, frank, innocent look like a bird's in them, and she had been so brave and bold with him about those silken stockings; and this little ignorant, dreamful mind of hers was so like a blush rosebud, which looks so close-shut, and so sweet-smelling, and so tempting fold within fold, that a child will pull it open, forgetful that he will spoil it forever from being a full-grown rose, and that he will let the dust, and the sun, and the bee into its tender bosom--and men are true children, and women are their rosebuds.

Thinking only of keeping well with this strange and beautiful wayfarer from that unknown paradise of Rubes' country, Bebee lifted up the vine-leaves of her basket.

"I took a flower for you to-day, but it is dead. Look; to-morrow, if you will be there, you shall have the best in all the garden."

"You wish to see me again then?" he asked her. Bebee looked at him with troubled eyes, but with a sweet frank faith that had no hesitation in it.

"Yes! you are not like anything I ever knew, and if you will only help me to learn a little. Sometimes I think I am not stupid, only ignorant; but I cannot be sure unless I try."

He smiled; he was listlessly amused; the day before he had tempted the child merely because she was pretty, and to tempt her in that way seemed the natural course of things, but now there was something in her that touched him differently; the end would be the same, but he would change the means.

The sun had set. There was a low, dull red glow still on the far edge of the plains--that was all. In the distant cottages little lights were twinkling. The path grew dark.

"I will go away and let her alone," he thought. "Poor little soul! it would give itself lavishly, it would never be bought. I will let it alone; the mind will go to sleep and the body will keep healthy, and strong, and pure, as people call it. It would be a pity to play with both a day, and then throw them away as the boy threw the pear-blossom. She is a little clod of earth that has field flowers growing in it. I will let her alone, the flowers under the plough in due course will die, and she will be content among the other clods,--if I let her alone."

At that moment there went across the dark fields, against the dusky red sky, a young man with a pile of brushwood on his back, and a hatchet in his hand.

"You are late, Bebee," he called to her in Flemish, and scowled at the stranger by her side.

"A good-looking lad; who is it?" said her companion.

"That is Jeannot, the son of old Sophie," she answered him. "He is so good--oh, so good, you cannot think; he keeps his mother and three little sisters, and works so very, very hard in the forest, and yet he often finds time to dig my garden for me, and he chops all my wood in winter."

They had come to where the road goes up by the king's summer palace. They were under great hanging beeches and limes. There was a high gray wall, and over it the blossoming fruit boughs hung. In a ditch full of long grass little kids bleated by their mothers. Away on the left went the green fields of colza, and beetroot, and trefoil, with big forest trees here and there in their midst, and, against the blue low line of the far horizon, red mill-sails, and gray church spires; dreamy plaintive bells far away somewhere were ringing the sad Flemish carillon.

He paused and looked at her.

"I must bid you good night, Bebee; you are near your home now."

She paused too and looked at him.

"But I shall see you to-morrow?"

There was the wistful, eager, anxious unconsciousness of appeal as when the night before she had asked him if he were angry.

He hesitated a moment. If he said no, and went away out of the city wherever his listless and changeful whim called him, he knew how it would be with her; he knew what her life would be as surely as he knew the peach would come out of the peach-flower rosy on the wall there: life in the little hut; among the neighbors; sleepy and safe and soulless;--if he let her alone.

If he stayed and saw her on the morrow he knew, too, the end as surely as he knew that the branch of white pear-blossom, which in carelessness he had knocked down with a stone on the grass yonder, would fade in the night and would never bring forth its sweet, simple fruit in the sunshine.

To leave the peach-flower to come to maturity and be plucked by a peasant, or to pull down the pear-blossom and rifle the buds?

Carelessly and languidly he balanced the question with himself, whilst Bebee, forgetful of the lace patterns and the flight of the hours, stood looking at him with anxious and pleading eyes, thinking only--was he angry again, or would he really bring her the books and make her wise, and let her know the stories of the past?

"Shall I see you to-morrow?" she said wistfully.

Should she?--if he left the peach-blossom safe on the wall, Jeannot the woodcutter would come by and by and gather the fruit.

If he left the clod of earth in its pasture with all its daisies untouched, this black-browed young peasant would cut it round with his hatchet and carry it to his wicker cage, that the homely brown lark of his love might sing to it some stupid wood note under a cottage eave.

The sight of the strong young forester going over the darkened fields against the dull red skies was as a feather that suffices to sway to one side a balance that hangs on a hair.

He had been inclined to leave her alone when he saw in his fancy the clean, simple, mindless, honest life that her fanciful girlhood would settle down into as time should go on. But when in the figure of the woodman there was painted visibly on the dusky sky that end for her which he had foreseen, he was not indifferent to it; he resented it; he was stirred to a vague desire to render it impossible.

If Jeannot had not gone by across the fields he would have left her and let her alone from that night thenceforwards; as it was,--

"Good night, Bebee," he said to her. "Tomorrow I will finish the Broodhuis and bring you your first book. Do not dream too much, or you will prick your lace patterns all awry. Good night, pretty one."

Then he turned and went back through the green dim lanes to the city.

Bebee stood a moment looking after him, with a happy smile; then she picked up the fallen pear-blossom, and ran home as fast as her feet would take her.

That night she worked very late watering her flowers, and trimming them, and then ironing out a little clean white cap for the morrow; and then sitting down under the open lattice to prick out all old Annemie's designs by the strong light of the full moon that flooded her hut with its radiance.

But she sang all the time she worked, and the gay, pretty, wordless songs floated across the water and across the fields, and woke some old people in their beds as they lay with their windows open, and they turned and crossed themselves, and said, "Dear heart!--this is the eve of the Ascension, and the angels are so near we hear them."

But it was no angel; only the thing that is nearer heaven than anything else,--a little human heart that is happy and innocent.

Bebee had only one sorrow that night. The pear-blossoms were all dead; and no care could call them back even for an hour's blooming.

"He did not think when he struck them down," she said to herself, regretfully.

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"Can I do any work for you, Bebee?" said black Jeannot in the daybreak, pushing her gate open timidly with one hand."There is none to do, Jeannot. They want so little in this time of the year--the flowers," said she, lifting her head from the sweet-peas she was tying up to their sticks.The woodman did not answer; he leaned over the half-open wicket, and swayed it backwards and forwards under his bare arm. He was a good, harmless, gentle fellow, swarthy as charcoal and simple as a child, and quite ignorant, having spent all his days in the great Soignies forests
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All the next day she sat under the yellow awning, but she sat alone.It was market day; there were many strangers. Flowers were in demand. The copper pieces were ringing against one another all the hours through in her leathern bag. The cobbler was in such good humor that he forgot to quarrel with his wife. The fruit was in such plenty that they gave her a leaf-full of white and red currants for her noonday dinner. And the people split their sides at the Cheap John's jokes; he was so droll. No one saw the leaks in his kettles or
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