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.
"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
"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.