Symud i'r prif gynnwys
Cuddio Rhestr Erthyglau

20 erthygl ar y dudalen hon



THE HERB DOCTOR'S WARNING By KATHARINE S. MACQUOID, Author of "Hie Heart's Deaire," Checkmate, "In the Volcanic Eifel," &c., &c. I. It was a sultry day ia August. Ralph Ora* looked up from his drawing, a study of two girls in black-and-white, with a deep sigh then he leant back in his chair and laughed at the dismayed face of Jeanne Pitou, as she tried to stifle a yawn, which shewed her splendid white teeth, but effectually put the mouth, on which the young painter had keen engaged, out df drawing. "No use, my girl we will give it up for to-day-it is too hot for anything; I wonder you and Mathurine have kept awake so long." Jeanne, a tall, strapping, dark-eyed lass of fifteen, looked ashamed of her drowsiness but small, fair Mathurine gave him a contented tmile, and strained her pale little eyes te their fullest opening. "I am quite awake, M monsieur pleases to continue the sitting with me." "Chutf" Jeanne slapped her fellow-model shoulder, and whispered: Can you not I" that monsieur is tired too ? He wants to go and refresh himself in the wood." Ralph rose, and said "Yes," when Jeanaw offered to carry his board and easel back to the hotel; then, wi* iL farewell nod to both girls, he took the way to ihe river, crossed its rocky stream and reached the edge of the deep, cool chestnut wood. Before he plunged in among the trees he turned to look at the charming tillage, its grey houses nestling beside the water, which, foaming over the cumbering boulders in its bed, busied itself in feeding the sluices of numerous mills, some of them perched oa the rocks beside the river, shaded by the talt poplar trees which fringed it; here and there a little bridge spanned the rock* and cojinsew one mill with another. It was more like a picture than a real Til- lage, and the cogttiuie of the people kept tip this unreal character. The iiien's baggy breeches fastened at the knee, their long-waisted waist- coats, and low-crowned, wide-brimmed hats told at once that the scene was Breton while the winged caps and large finely goffered collars of the girls specialised th# locality m < part of Finistere. Ralph Orne had been for several months painting in the village he wished to go North now that the weather had become so warm, but was so fascinated by his surroundings that h. could not drag himself away. The Englishmea he had been intimate with had left the litltt place; just a few others, French and German, lingered. Ralph was the best-looking and the most popular among the artists, and very soon after his arrival he had been able to have his choice among the village tuodels-men and women, lads and girls, accustomed to sit to the painters who every year visited this out-of-the" way corner of Brittany. He wandered along under the tree., lettinf his thought. and fancies wander too at they pleased; he was not earnest enough about hit pictures to think deeply concerning them. H* called himself an artist, and he liked to paint, but he took Art as easily as he took most other things, and as he did not need to live by it, he thought it was useless to turn a pleasure int* the grind which "some artists made of their lives." His reverie was suddenly disturbed he stumbled against a granite boulder, so moss- grown that, in the semi-glooin of the wood, h. came upon it unawares. A tall, slender figure rose up from the fartka* side of the stone. Pardon me, M. Ralph," a soft voice said "monsieur did not say he wanted me this afternoon, so I came out here." She looked up at him with a glow of delight in her pale face and deep-blue eyes. She wa. not so pretty as Mathurine was, but she looked more refined in spite of the clumsy black stuff gown she wore, her figure was graceful; only a very narrow border of golden hair shewed under the flat muslin front of the winged cap. "m Ralph Orne looked grave while the girl "But, Annik, I know that your mother grudges the time you spare to me when you sit. Ought you not to work for her this afternoon f The glow faded from Annik's eyes; they became sad and downcast. "M. Ralph knows I do not like indoor work if my mother would only let me sew out of doors! But she will not; she says I shouli •oil and roughen the silk I embroider with, i| I sewed in the open air." He wished for his sketch-book, her attitude was so unconsciously charming as she leant against the mossy stone. His silence surprised her; she looked up, and blushed with pleasure at finding his eyes fixed on her. "Then you like sitting, although you have not been trained for it as Jeanne and Mathurine have ? I have only sat to you, she said softly; "I do not know if it would give me pleasure t* jiit to a stranger." There was worship in her eyes as she looked at him; Ralph had become accustomed to the admiration of these simple village girls, mere children he considered them, and he took it as his right. "You know M. Gramont, Annik? Well, he has asked me whether you will sit to him when I go away ? Annik grew white; she pressed her hanj firmly on the stone. "Does monsieur mean that he is going away ? Then with a smile "But that is not for long, is it ? Monsieur goes only for awhile —he will return ? Ralph had meant to say that his final depar- ture was decided but she looked tearful; he thought he would not speak of it till a day at so beforehand. Yes, yes," he answered cheerfully "I ana only now going to Quimper; perhaps on ta Mont St. Michel. 1 shall not be away a week, so if your mother will let you sit to M. Gramont, you can do so to-morrow, as I shall not be here to want you for my picture. Good- bye, my little one; au revoir." He nodded and kissed his hand to her. "I am going dowa to the sea." "Poor little girl! He walked away, singing a little French song. "This place is too rough for her, that is why she likes to sit to me she escapes some of the coarse daily drudgery of life. I believe a Breton woman has a harder lot than the peasants of most countries she has to work all day like a beast of burden, and her husband, or her father, as the case may be, never gives her so much as a word of thanks. Perhaps the Norman women work as hard, but they are kindly treated; they are their hus- bands' companions. Poor little Annik j, toe gentle and sensitive to be the married slave some of her fellows are. By the way, I murt caution Gramont te be gentle with her. The handsome, fair-faced young Englislitnin strode along in his grey knickerbocker suit, with the happy belief that, as an Englishman, be was superior to anyone in the village. II. The girl sighed and looked after him till he disappeared among the broad chesnut leafage then she sat down on the stone, and hid her face in her hands. A sharp tap on the shoulder waked her from a long day-dream. Looking up, she saw the eyes of a well-known face glowering at her from under a ragged blue-green shawl, weather- dyed till its hue would hare delighted a painter, ghe—-for it was an old woman—-liad a bunoh of green herb# In one lean, dark h<md; the other held the hazel stick with which she had struck the girl'o shoulder, yUoik roie and she longed tg crops nerseir, but reared to give offence, and thereby to draw on herself the ill-favour of Barbe Daoulas. The old woman called herself a herb- doctor, but she had the reputation of working witch-spells on the cattle, and sometimes on parsons she disliked. "Good-day to you, Barbe." The girl tried to smile, but the smile was stifled as she met a eruel sneer in the old woman's bright dark eyes. Is all well with you ? "The wise speak not of themselves; they do but warn the foolish," she said solemnly. "I have a message for thee, Annik Ploua; I kid thee heed it." "A message I" Ânnik's heart throbbed with fear, aa.1ae stared hard at the dark, shrivelled faee. "Who ean send rae a message through you ? "Creatures of earth are earthy, unless wings are vouchfafed them; then they soar, and compel secrets to reveal themselves. The mes- sage I bear you is one of life or death, accord- ing to the way in which you hearken to its counsel." Her dark eyes seemed to gleam as her tall, slender figure bent over the girl, who was again titting on the mossy stone. Annik shivered. Years ago she had heard her father say, under his breath, that Barbe Daoulas had dealings with the Evil One, and the girl had never lost the impression that there was lomething uncanny about the old herb-woman. She felt so uneasy at being alone with her in the gloomy wood that she could hardly keep from crossing herself. Then a defiant mood seized her she said coolly: "I cannot tell what I may do till I hear the massage." Her seeming indifference angered Barbe the skinny fingers clenched her stick more tightly, and she struck the ground with it to give vent to her violent temper. "Before I speak the warning, I see it will not avail; as well pour water on the sea-sand as speak wisdom in the ear of the foolish. What do then here, Annik Ploua P" Her voice rose in shrill denuncia- lion. "Thy mother slaves at home, and groans for help, while thou, like an immodest maiden, waitest in the wood to waylay the stranger." "That is not true!" Annik started up with defiance in her face. The old crone laughed scornfully, and pointed the stick at her. "Who, then, was the tall man that passed bat now out of sight among the broad chestnut fans ? Fool that thou art to fancy the English- man wastes a thought on thee It ahamed me but now to note the looks thou hast cast at him. Had he cared the top joint of his little inger for thee, as mau cares for woman, thou wouldest have left thy innocence in this wood o little dost thou heed it. Listen, Annik Ploua 1 Sh# raised the hazel wand in warning. "This i» my message, earthworm, that thinkest thyself a soaring bird. Be humble, if thou wouldest escape a fall; work at thy appointed labour, and keep within, lest thy brain, swollen with vain conceits, bring thee to destruction. Ere the leaves fall from the chestnut trees, the Englishman will return to his dismal country, and will forget thy existence. Pride hurries ever to the precipice of destruction." The herb-woman turned away, and dis- appeared among the trees. III. A week had gone by. Annik had not sat to M. Gramont in Ralph's absence; she had excused herself by saying her mother needed her. She had worked unusually hard at home, At the week's end her mother said in her guttural Breton Thy help has given me a holiday, my sweet one. May thy work be blessed to thee, beloved Thou mayest sit long hours to the Englishman when he returns; I give thee full leave." Annik put her arms round her pale-faced mother, and lovingly kissed her. "Thou shalt have all the money he pays," she said; "I would not take a sou from him except to give to thee." Her mother looked grave. "Nay, that would be proud and wrong, my child it would be to forget thy station and his. Thou art a peasant's daughter, and he may be a lord in his own country." Annik turned away t. hide her burning obeeks; it seemed as if everyone was in league to open her eyes to the truth of her feelings for Ralph Orne. Barbe Daoulas' warning had revealed to her what had ailed her all these weeks. Even with- out the old woman's plain speaking, the misery of this week's separation from the Englishman must have taught her that these delicious hopes, these sickening doubts and fears, were symptoms of love, that strange disease which she had read about and heard told in songs and ballads, but of which she had not seen an example in her native villnge, where girls married the husband# their parents found for them, or more frequently stayed single and went away to service in far- off towns. Certainly Annik knew that there had not been any girl who had given her love ansought to a man who had not returned it. It was tk# day of Balph Orne's expected return she would not know of his arrival, the hotel being in the market-place, some little way from the river, near which her father's house nestled among rocks and poplar trees. Her day's work was done, and she sat spinning just within the open door, so feverish with Impatience that already her thread had thrice snapped, and she had keen forced to stop and fcy it together. A sudden thought, like a flash, darted across her musings. Was it certain that the English- man did not return her love ? The herb-doctor bad said so, but everyone knew that Barbe taoulas loved to make others miserable; her mother had cautioned her not to forget the difference between herself and the Englishman, but then Ralph Orne and Annik talked in French, and her mother only spoke and under- stood Breton. Annik was sure ehe had not ventured to put herself on au equality with M. Ralph, although he was so kind and sociable. She had heard Jeanne say "English- men are cold and proud"; it might be that he did care for her, and yet kept his feelings hidden. She started there was a sound of voices by the river, and she recognised one of them. "Yes," it said, "I am going hon,a almost directly I have a letter which calls me back to England. I am sorry to leave, as you will guess, when I have shewn you how charming the village and its surroundings are many of the inhabitants, too, are very interesting to me." Annik sat still; she longed to shew herself. Something whispered: "If you go and stand on the threshold, he will come and talk to you he will perhaps say he has missed you." If Ralph had been alone she would have gone to him, but Orne's words had shewn her that he had a stranger with him, and this made her feel shy. She went to bed earlier than usual, but she eould not sleep. Years ago her mother had given her a book of Breton lays and ballads, which had helped to increase the natural romance of the girl's nature. To-night, while she lay tossing in a fever of unrest, she said to herself that the girls in those ballads need not have died broken-hearted if they had told their lovers of the love that filled their hearts. It was true that it some cases, cruel parents had come between; there was Gene vi eve of Rustefan, whose true love had been forced to become a priest; that- was indeed a tragedy. Annik told herself it was best to be simple; if a girl were shy and hid her feelings, who could say whether a man, especially an Englishman, might not do the same ? Surely, surely, at the moment of parting his heart would speak for itself. The word "part- ing overwhelmed her with anguish; she believed that no girl had ever so suffered, unless, indeed, Genevieve herself. Annik hid her eyes on her pillow; at last she aebbed her- "if to sleep, IT. It woo IttffOOft of the next day Were Annik saw the Englishman. She waited at hothe, bUt he did not come at last she found an excuse for going into the village. Ralph was standing near the market-place, ia the midst of a group of the models he had drawn from during his stay in the Tillage. Everyone seemed to be talking and laughing, and as Annik joined them she saw that each one was shewing to his or her neighbour the gifts iv hi eh the Englishman had brought from Mont St. Michel. Ralph saw her, but he did not offer her a gift, II Good-dav, Annik," he called out. *1 k. corne Lack, you see." Before the girl could answer, Jeanne put her arm round her. "He has come back, Annik, but only for a day he is off to-morrow for England "—then she whispered "that foul little island, full of fogs and mud; had he not better stay here, where we all love hin4 and where there is the sunshine he loves ? Annik saw that Mathurine and her brothef Yves were watching her, and she tried to look indifferent. "Messieurs the artists always go away when their work is done." She turned away, deeply wounded M. Ralph had spoken as if she were the same to him aJ the others were, instead of in the kind, gentle manner which she had imagined opt-cialised her as his one chosen friend among the village girls. She felt rackleiii, and hurried slong tiit reache. t.lio rirer bank. She bIpn to cross ti" ftreani.. springing from one huge srrey stone u anol nor did she pause till the was under the /deep green shade of the chestnut trees. When she camo to the prostrate boulder, she paused and looked around her; she was going to take her usual Get on its mossy surface, when she heard a movement in the wood. Was it Barbe ? She hurried on to escape a meeting with the old woman. A scornful laugh sounded behind her. At this she turned and made straight for the river bank, telling herself that if she followed on in the track which led deeper into the wood she should put the Englishman, should lie come in search of her, in the way of that terrible old raven. She soon came in sight of the sparkling, dashing river, and drew back under the fringe of the wood. She had not long to wait. Presently she saw between the drooping leaves the Englishman strolling in his leisurely way to The water's edge. "Holy Virgin' why oomes he not more quickly ? the ardent girl said to herself. Then lie sprang across from rock to rock, with the sure-footed ease that always excited her admiration. He had come to look for her, she felt sure of it, and as soon as ko neared the wood he called out: "Annik! She came a little forward, and Ralph joined her, raising his hat as he did so. "I thought I should find you"—he smiled at her. "I have brought you a farewell token to remember me by, to shew that I have appre- siated your kindness to me." He drew a little parcel from his pocket, and taking off its paper wrappings, displayed a lovely little mother-of-pearl Îtni; opening it by a spring, he shewed her that it was lined with pale blue velvet, and held a gilt thimble, a dainty needle-case, and scissors. Annik looked at it sadly; she did not take it from his hand. She looked up at him, and the passion he saw in her eyes startled him with a foreboding of the truth. "Is it true that you are goiag back to England ? "Yes," he answered wto-morrow or next day. But, Annik, do you not like may little gift ? I thought it would please you." It is like you to give me anything so beautiful; but, M. Ralph, I could not have you think I need anything to remind me of you. How can you bear to leave iAs, when we so dearly love you ? "It is very kind of you to say so; I shall not easily forget the kindness that has been shewn me; but, dear child, this is not my home. If you were in my place, much as you loved your friends, you would not give up your home to otav with them." She had not really believed in his departure at these words the flood of her despair carried away with it all her power of self-control; it seemed to her blind passion that a question lurked in his words if she failed to answer it, he would never know how she had loved him. "I would give up everything "her eyes were full of passionate love—"everything but him I loved I would follow him wherever he went; I would be his slave, his servant, his model—what it pleased him to make me—so long as he took me with him; he should never repent his love for me." Ralph's eyes drooped under her passionate gaze; he felt truly perplexed. Annik was a dear little girl, but he was not conscious that he had ever made love to her; possibly he had shewn his admiration. He tried hard to assure himself she did not mean all she said it was only a Breton poetic mode of expressing tu sorrow she felt about his departure. Come, come "—he smiled cheerfully at her-" let its go home, and shew your mother my gift; I know she will admire it, and I shall be rewarded for the pains I took it clioofing it for you, dear little girl; come, now. He was determined to avoid a scene, as he called it, and he went on till he stood under the poplars beside the river. Then he looked over hi3 siioulder to where Annik still stood among the chestnut trees. The girl was no longer alone. He recognised the herb-doctor in the tall figure that stood facing her; the old woman abook her 1st at her, but Annik broke away, and hurried after Mr. Orne. He heard a peal of most unearthly laughter, V. Three years later found Ralph a poor man. He had turned seriously to painting as a mears of livelihood; his Breton drawings had met with so much success that when spring came again he resolved to revisit the charming village by the river. At his last leavetaking, Annik's composure had reassured him, He had forgotten his little siene with her; but he determined that this time he would draw only from the practised models of the little place: he wouli make so special friend. He had grown tired of the journey from Quimperle; bidding his driver take his luggage on to the hotel, he decided to walk the last few miles. He sat down to rest at the cross-roads. As he rose to resume his walk he saw a tall, bent figure on the road before him. He soon overtook her, and flung her some money. "I may as well begin with a blessing as with a curse," he told himself, for he knew how ready the Breton beggar is to anathematise those who pas" by without an alms. The figure stopped and picked up the money. As she flung it back at him, he recognised the soowling face of Barbe Daoulas. "Bird of prey I she said in her harsh guttural, "I have watched for thee, but thott hast loitered by the way; now thou art too lato to see the ruin thou hast made. Before the snows melted Annik went to her rest; the daisies star the sod above her; but the worm feasts merrily below." She laughed at the horror in his face, and pointed to the church yard. "Go, Englishman, and see your work! Go! see where Annik lies with her broken heart I [THE END. ]


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