Ebooks, Fiction, Non-Fiction 1000s of Free books and stories online to read now ~ Main Page

 

 

 

Viola's Sketch by Mrs W. J. Hays

 

We had been staying at Dinan, a pretty and cheap little summer resting-place in Brittany, and so picturesque were the costumes of the peasantry that Viola, my sister, was fascinated, and her sketch-book was getting crammed, while I, more frivolous, was longing to be in Paris, where I could go to the Bon Marché, see the newest fashions, and hear the latest doings and sayings of the famous actress Sarah Bernhardt. Viola was always more sensible in some things than I, but she was weak on jugs, and mugs, and rugs, and picturesque old rags, and old women, and children; therefore it was no surprise to me, when we were on the road to the railway station, and our trunks already well on the way toward Paris, to have her insist upon stopping to find out what was the matter with a child who was crying bitterly. When, however, Viola discovered that the child was the grand-daughter of old Margot, who had been our "maid-of-everything" at the little cottage which aunt had hired for the season, who had cooked for us, and washed for us, and gone to market for us, at some ridiculously low wages, there was no use in arguing with her; stop she would, and alight she would from the queer old conveyance we were in—for it was not the day for the diligence—and aunt had to wait, nolens volens—and that means willingly if you choose, and unwillingly if you don't choose—and I had to wait, and I had to do all the scolding, for aunt is as meek as a turtle-dove. And after a while both aunt and I were just as much interested as was Viola, and there were we three all listening to little Suzette, forgetful of the train and of Paris.

Suzette had ceased crying, and was pulling a flower to pieces as she told us of her trouble. Margot had been obliged to remain away from home on account of our intended departure, and she had left orders, strict orders, for Jacques, Suzette's brother, not to do this, nor that, nor the other—in fact, had forbidden so many things that poor little Suzette knew not what was the thing he could do; nevertheless Jacques insisted upon doing just as he pleased, and Suzette and he had a quarrel. Suzette wished him to obey his grandmother; he called his grandmother an old witch, and said Suzette was her cat, and that as for voice and eyes, their cat had much finer ones. Then they had even worse words, and she had pulled his hair, and he had banged the door, and said he was going to drown himself; and he had come down to the pond, for she had run after him, and she was sure—yes, positively sure—that her brother was dead, and she should never see him again.

"But, Suzette," said Viola, "he may be hiding just to tease you."

"No, ma'm'selle, he has not wit enough for that; he has a tender heart, and I was cruel to him, and of course being desolate from my unkindness, he has effaced himself."-And then she burst out sobbing again.

"Oh, come, Viola," said I; "the child believes this to be true; let us prove to her that it is not so. The pond is small; we will hunt high and low for him. You take one bank, I will take the other, and between us Jacques can not escape."

Aunt made a feeble expostulation about the train.

"The train, madame," said I, grandly, "can wait. When humanity demands our time, there should be no thought of personal convenience. You see this weeping girl, you hear what it is that causes her tears; how, then, can you suggest to us the idea of evading responsibility?"

Then aunt feebly again murmured, "Dinner."

"Ah, then, ma chère tante, behold the immense luncheon Margot has provided—good Margot, to whom we wish to render this service!" This was from Viola; and all the while Suzette was sobbing.

"Adieu," I cried, tucking up my skirts, and running to the pond. Viola followed me; but so lost was she in admiration of the water plants and lilies, that had it not been for me she would have sat down and sketched them whether Jacques drowned or not. I hurried her off, telling her the child might be just at the last gasp, and we must hasten.

So Viola took one bank and I the other. Every other moment I shouted, "Have you found him?"

"No-oo," came back to me.

"Neither have I," was my response.

I had a little ivory-handled riding-whip with me, and I began to beat the bushes. Viola was now too far away to hear me, so instead of calling to her I screamed,

"Jacques! Jacques! unless you are drowned, do answer me. Good Jacques, dear Jacques, where are you?"

There was no reply; but the wind sighed in the trees, and the water lapped softly on the margin of the pond. I began to have some fears of my own. What if I should come suddenly upon the boy just as he was sinking, the bubbles perhaps dancing up to the surface of the water? Could I do anything to save him? could I swim? Alas! I could swim in a bathing tank, with some one to hold up my chin. What should I do? would my screams be heard half a mile away?

As I thought thus I again began beating the bushes, which were thick along the edge of the water, and at the same moment a loud something, neither a scream nor a groan, saluted my ears. I stood amazed; I could not scream; and instantly a voice said:

"Ah, what a fine fellow I have lost! that was too bad!" and a scrubby little head appeared above the bushes. "Is it you, ma'm'selle? I beg pardon. I have caused you to be frightened; but you have caused me to lose the finest frog in Brittany."

"Oh, Jacques! naughty Jacques!" I faltered, as well as my beating heart would allow, "how could you serve us all in this way?"

"In what way, ma'm'selle?" replied the muddy creature, holding up a frog he was in the act of skinning.

"Why, we thought—that is, we feared—or rather Suzette said, you meant to drown yourself."

"I!" exclaimed this gamin, in the most innocent and artless manner.

"Yes, you. Did you not tell her so?"

SUZETTE.—Drawn by Theo. Robinson. SUZETTE.—Drawn by Theo. Robinson.

"In a moment of excitement I may have uttered a careless expression," said the youth, peeling the frog's leg carefully. "Suzette is weak, like all women—begging your pardon, ma'm'selle—she believes all that we men say. She, in truth, irritated me, and I was cross. But I had promised Monsieur le Curé that he should have a fine mess of frogs to-day, and it was a good chance for me to get them; therefore I came to the pond, and left Suzette to recover her composure."

I had recovered mine by this time, but I knew not whether to laugh or to be angry; so I said, "Do you find your conscience tranquil when you utter a falsehood?"

"Oh no, ma'm'selle, never; but this was a jest, done just to make Suzette behave herself. She will not scold me again very soon." And with that he strung his frogs together, slung them over his shoulder, and was marching off.

"Come, come," said I, "you must go with me and show yourself."

"As ma'm'selle pleases," was the cool response, and we trudged back toward the road.

I expected to find Suzette still sobbing, and Viola in hysterics; but what were they doing? Suzette was posing, and Viola making a picture of her—the cap and the sabots had been too tempting. Viola had given up searching for the truant boy, and was trying to secure a correct sketch of his sister. Suzette looked "all smiles" at seeing Jacques, and would have embraced him, but Viola would not let her stir.

It is needless to say that we lost the train, that aunt mildly lectured us, that Jacques and Suzette begged ten thousand pardons, and filled the carriage with water-lilies. We had to stop at the curé's to return some books he had lent us; and when we told him the story, he made us dine with him, and I must confess that I ate some of Jacques's frog legs, and that they were delicious.