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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesBebee; Or, Two Little Wooden Shoes - Chapter VI
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Bebee; Or, Two Little Wooden Shoes - Chapter VI Post by :forumking Category :Long Stories Author :Ouida Date :April 2012 Read :3363

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Bebee; Or, Two Little Wooden Shoes - Chapter VI

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 the hole in his bellows, or the leg that was lacking to his milking stool.

Everybody was gay and merry that day. But Bebee's eyes looked wistfully over the throng, and did not find what they sought. Somehow the day seemed dull, and the square empty.

The stones and the timbers around seemed more than ever full of a thousand stories that they would not tell her because she knew nothing, and was only Bebee.

She had never known a dull hour before. She, a little bright, industrious, gay thing, whose hands were always full of work, and whose head was always full of fancies, even in the grimmest winter time, when she wove the lace in the gray, chilly workroom, with the frost on the casements, and the mice running out in their hunger over the bare brick floor.

That bare room was a sad enough place sometimes, when the old women would bewail how they starved on the pittance they gained, and the young women sighed for their aching heads and their failing eyesight, and the children dropped great tears on the bobbins, because they had come out without a crust to break their fast.

She had been sad there often for others, but she had never been dull--not with this unfamiliar, desolate, dreary dulness, that seemed to take all the mirth out of the busy life around her, and all the color out of the blue sky above. Why, she had no idea herself. She wondered if she were going to be ill; she had never been ill in her life, being strong as a little bird that has never known cage or captivity.

When the day was done, Bebee gave a quick sigh as she looked across the square. She had so wanted to tell him that she was not ungrateful; and she had a little moss-rose ready, with a sprig of sweetbrier, and a tiny spray of maidenhair fern that grew under the willows, which she had kept covered up with a leaf of sycamore all the day long.

No one would have it now.

The child went out of the place sadly as the carillon rang. There was only the moss-rose in her basket, and the red and white currants that had been given her for her dinner.

She went along the twisting, many-colored, quaintly fashioned streets, till she came to the water-side.

It is very ancient there still, there are all manner of old buildings, black and brown and gray, peaked roofs, gabled windows, arched doors, crumbling bridges, twisted galleries leaning to touch the dark surface of the canal, dusky wharves crowded with barrels, and bales, and cattle, and timber, and all the various freightage that the good ships come and go with all the year round, to and from the ZuyderZee, and the Baltic water, and the wild Northumbrian shores, and the iron-bound Scottish headlands, and the pretty gray Norman seaports, and the white sandy dunes of Holland, with the toy towns and the straight poplar-trees.

Bebee was fond of watching the brigs and barges, that looked so big to her, with their national flags flying, and their tall masts standing thick as grass, and their tawny sails flapping in the wind, and about them the sweet, strong smell of that strange, unknown thing, the sea.

Sometimes the sailors would talk with her; sometimes some old salt, sitting astride of a cask, would tell her a mariner's tale of far-away lands and mysteries of the deep; sometimes some curly-headed cabin-boy would give her a shell or a plume of seaweed, and try and make her understand what the wonderful wild water was like, which was not quiet and sluggish and dusky as this canal was, but was forever changing and moving, and curling and leaping, and making itself now blue as her eyes, now black as that thunder-cloud, now white as the snow that the winter wind tossed, now pearl hued and opaline as the convolvulus that blew in her own garden.

And Bebee would listen, with the shell in her lap, and try to understand, and gaze at the ships and then at the sky beyond them, and try to figure to herself those strange countries to which these ships were always going, and saw in fancy all the blossoming orchard province of green France, and all the fir-clothed hills and rushing rivers of the snow-locked Swedish shore, and saw too, doubtless, many lands that had no place at all except in dreamland, and were more beautiful even than the beauty of the earth, as poets' countries are, to their own sorrow, oftentimes.

But this dull day Bebee did not go down upon the wharf; she did not want the sailors' tales; she saw the masts and the bits of bunting that streamed from them, and they made her restless, which they had never done before.

Instead she went in at a dark old door and climbed up a steep staircase that went up and up, as though she were mounting St. Gudule's belfry towers; and at the top of it entered a little chamber in the roof, where one square unglazed hole that served for light looked out upon the canal, with all its crowded craft, from the dainty schooner yacht, fresh as gilding and holystone could make her, that was running for pleasure to the Scheldt, to the rude, clumsy coal barge, black as night, that bore the rough diamonds of Belgium to the snow-buried roofs of Christiania and Stromstad.

In the little dark attic there was a very old woman in a red petticoat and a high cap, who sat against the window, and pricked out lace patterns with a pin on thick paper. She was eighty-five years old, and could hardly keep body and soul together.

Bebee, running to her, kissed her. "Oh, mother Annemie, look here! Beautiful red and white currants, and a roll; I saved them for you. They are the first currants we have seen this year. Me? oh, for me, I have eaten more than are good! You know I pick fruit like a sparrow, always. Dear mother Annemie, are you better? Are you quite sure you are better to-day?"

The little old withered woman, brown as a walnut and meagre as a rush, took the currants, and smiled with a childish glee, and began to eat them, blessing the child with each crumb she broke off the bread.

"Why had you not a grandmother of your own, my little one?" she mumbled. "How good you would have been to her, Bebee!"

"Yes," said Bebee seriously, but her mind could not grasp the idea. It was easier for her to believe the fanciful lily parentage of Antoine's stories. "How much work have you done, Annemie? Oh, all that? all that? But there is enough for a week. You work too early and too late, you dear Annemie."

"Nay, Bebee, when one has to get one's bread that cannot be. But I am afraid my eyes are failing. That rose now, is it well done?"

"Beautifully done. Would the Baes take them if they were not? You know he is one that cuts every centime in four pieces."

"Ah! sharp enough, sharp enough, that is true. But I am always afraid of my eyes. I do not see the flags out there so well as I used to do."

"Because the sun is so bright, Annemie; that is all. I myself, when I have been sitting all day in the place in the light, the flowers look pale to me. And you know it is not age with _me_, Annemie?"

The old woman and the young girl laughed together at that droll idea.

"You have a merry heart, dear little one," said old Annemie. "The saints keep it to you always."

"May I tidy the room a little?"

"To be sure, dear, and thank you too. I have not much time, you see; and somehow my back aches badly when I stoop."

"And it is so damp here for you, over all that water!" said Bebee as she swept and dusted and set to rights the tiny place, and put in a little broken pot a few sprays of honeysuckle and rosemary that she had brought with her. "It is so damp here. You should have come and lived in my hut with me, Annemie, and sat out under the vine all day, and looked after the chickens for me when I was in the town. They are such mischievous little souls; as soon as my back is turned one or other is sure to push through the roof, and get out among the flower-beds. Will you never change your mind, and live with me, Annemie? I am sure you would be happy, and the starling says your name quite plain, and he is such a funny bird to talk to; you never would tire of him. Will you never come? It is so bright there, and green and sweet smelling; and to think you never even have seen it!--and the swans and all,--it is a shame."

"No, dear," said old Annemie, eating her last bunch of currants. "You have said so so often, and you are good and mean it, that I know. But I could not leave the water. It would kill me. Out of this window you know I saw my Jeannot's brig go away--away--away--till the masts were lost in the mists. Going with iron to Norway; the 'Fleur d'Epine' of this town, a good ship, and a sure, and her mate; and as proud as might be, and with a little blest Mary in lead round his throat. She was to be back in port in eight months, bringing timber. Eight months--that brought Easter time. But she never came. Never, never, never, you know. I sat here watching them come and go, and my child sickened and died, and the summer passed, and the autumn, and all the while I looked--looked--looked; for the brigs are all much alike; and only her I always saw as soon as she hove in sight (because he tied a hank of flax to her mizzen-mast); and when he was home safe and sound I spun the hank into hose for him; that was a fancy of his, and for eleven voyages, one on another, he had never missed to tie the flax nor I to spin the hose. But the hank of flax I never saw this time; nor the brave brig; nor my good man with his sunny blue eyes. Only one day in winter, when the great blocks of ice were smashing hither and thither, a coaster came in and brought tidings of how off in the Danish waters they had come on a water-logged brig, and had boarded her, and had found her empty, and her hull riven in two, and her crew all drowned and dead beyond any manner of doubt. And on her stern there was her name painted white, the 'Fleur d'Epine,' of Brussels, as plain as name could be; and that was all we ever knew: what evil had struck her, or how they had perished, nobody ever told. Only the coaster brought that bit of beam away, with the 'Fleur d'Epine' writ clear upon it. But you see I never _know my man is dead. Any day--who can say?--any one of those ships may bring him aboard of her, and he may leap out on the wharf there, and come running up the stairs as he used to do, and cry, in his merry voice, 'Annemie, Annemie, here is more flax to spin, here is more hose to weave!' For that was always his homeward word; no matter whether he had had fair weather or foul, he always knotted the flax to his masthead. So you see, dear, I could not leave here. For what if he came and found me away? He would say it was an odd fashion of mourning for him. And I could not do without the window, you know. I can watch all the brigs come in; and I can smell the shipping smell that I have loved all the days of my life; and I can see the lads heaving, and climbing, and furling, and mending their bits of canvas, and hauling their flags up and down. And then who can say?--the sea never took him, I think--I think I shall hear his voice before I die. For they do say that God is good."

Bebee, sweeping very noiselessly, listened, and her eyes grew wistful and wondering. She had heard the story a thousand times; always in different words, but always the same little tale, and she knew how old Annemie was deaf to all the bells that tolled the time, and blind to all the whiteness of her hair and all the wrinkles of her face, and only thought of her sea-slain lover as he had been in the days of her youth.

But this afternoon the familiar history had a new patheticalness for her, and as the old soul put aside with her palsied hand the square of canvas that screened the casement, and looked out, with her old dim sad eyes strained in the longing that God never answered, Bebee felt a strange chill at her own heart, and wondered to herself,--

"What can it be to care for another creature like that? It must be so terrible, and yet it must be beautiful too. Does every one suffer like that?"

She did not speak at all as she finished sweeping the bricks, and went down-stairs for a metal cruche full of water, and set over a little charcoal on the stove the old woman's brass soup kettle with her supper of stewing cabbage.

Annemie did not hear or notice; she was still looking out of the hole in the wall on to the masts, and the sails, and the water.

It was twilight.

From the barges and brigs there came the smell of the sea. The sailors were shouting to each other. The craft were crowded close, and lost in the growing darkness. On the other side of the canal the belfries were ringing for vespers.

"Eleven voyages one and another, and he never forgot to tie the flax to the mast," Annemie murmured, with her old wrinkled face leaning out into the gray air. "It used to fly there,--one could see it coming up half a mile off,--just a pale yellow flake on the wind, like a tress of my hair, he would say. No, no, I could not go away; he may come to-night, to-morrow, any time; he is not drowned, not my man; he was all I had, and God is good, they say."

Bebee listened and looked; then kissed the old shaking hand and took up the lace patterns and went softly out of the room without speaking.

When old Annemie watched at the window it was useless to seek for any word or sign of her: people said that she had never been quite right in her brain since that fatal winter noon sixty years before, when the coaster had brought into port the broken beam of the good brig "Fleur d'Epine."

Bebee did not know about that, nor heed whether her wits were right or not.

She had known the old creature in the lace-room where Annemie pricked out designs, and she had conceived a great regard and sorrow for her; and when Annemie had become too ailing and aged to go herself any longer to the lace-maker's place, Bebee had begged leave for her to have the patterns at home, and had carried them to and fro for her for the last three or four years, doing many other little useful services for the lone old soul as well,--services which Annemie hardly perceived, she had grown so used to them, and her feeble intelligence was so sunk in the one absorbing idea that she must watch all the days through and all the years through for the coming of the dead man and the lost brig.

Bebee put the lace patterns in her basket, and trotted home, her sabots clattering on the stones.

"What it must be to care for any one like that!" she thought, and by some vague association of thought that she could not have pursued, she lifted the leaves and looked at the moss-rosebud.

It was quite dead.

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

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

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

Bebee; Or, Two Little Wooden Shoes - Chapter V
"If I could save a centime a day, I could buy a pair of stockings this time next year," thought Bebee, locking her shoes with her other treasures in her drawer the next morning, and taking her broom and pail to wash down her little palace.But a centime a day is a great deal in Brabant, when one has not always enough for bare bread, and when, in the long chill winter, one must weave thread lace all through the short daylight for next to nothing at all; for there are so many women in Brabant, and every one of them,