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Bebee   By: (1839-1908)

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Or, Two Little Wooden Shoes





Bébée sprang out of bed at daybreak. She was sixteen.

It seemed a very wonderful thing to be as much as that sixteen a woman quite.

A cock was crowing under her lattice. He said how old you are! how old you are! every time that he sounded his clarion.

She opened the lattice and wished him good day, with a laugh. It was so pleasant to be woke by him, and to think that no one in all the world could ever call one a child any more.

There was a kid bleating in the shed. There was a thrush singing in the dusk of the sycamore leaves. There was a calf lowing to its mother away there beyond the fence. There were dreamy muffled bells ringing in the distance from many steeples and belfries where the city was; they all said one thing, "How good it is to be so old as that how good, how very good!"

Bébée was very pretty.

No one in all Brabant ever denied that. To look at her it seemed as if she had so lived among the flowers that she had grown like them, and only looked a bigger blossom that was all.

She wore two little wooden shoes and a little cotton cap, and a gray kirtle linen in summer, serge in winter; but the little feet in the shoes were like rose leaves, and the cap was as white as a lily, and the gray kirtle was like the bark of the bough that the apple blossom parts, and peeps out of, to blush in the sun.

The flowers had been the only godmothers that she had ever had, and fairy godmothers too.

The marigolds and the sunflowers had given her their ripe, rich gold to tint her hair; the lupins and irises had lent their azure to her eyes; the moss rosebuds had made her pretty mouth; the arum lilies had uncurled their softness for her skin; and the lime blossoms had given her their frank, fresh, innocent fragrance.

The winds had blown, and the rains had rained, and the sun had shone on her, indeed, and had warmed the whiteness of her limbs, but they had only given to her body and her soul a hardy, breeze blown freshness like that of a field cowslip.

She had never been called anything but Bébée.

One summer day Antoine Mäes a French subject, but a Belgian by adoption and habit, an old man who got his meagre living by tilling the garden plot about his hut and selling flowers in the city squares Antoine, going into Brussels for his day's trade, had seen a gray bundle floating among the water lilies in the bit of water near his hut and had hooked it out to land, and found a year old child in it, left to drown, no doubt, but saved by the lilies, and laughing gleefully at fate.

Some lace worker, blind with the pain of toil, or some peasant woman harder of heart than the oxen in her yoke, had left it there to drift away to death, not reckoning for the inward ripple of the current or the toughness of the lily leaves and stems.

Old Antoine took it to his wife, and the wife, a childless and aged soul, begged leave to keep it; and the two poor lonely, simple folks grew to care for the homeless, motherless thing, and they and the people about all called it Bébée only Bébée.

The church got at it and added to it a saint's name; but for all its little world it remained Bébée Bébée when it trotted no higher than the red carnation heads; Bébée when its yellow curls touched as high as the lavender bush; Bébée on this proud day when the thrush's song and the cock's crow found her sixteen years old.

Old Antoine's hut stood in a little patch of garden ground with a brier hedge all round it, in that byway which lies between Laeken and Brussels, in the heart of flat, green Brabant, where there are beautiful meadows and tall, flowering hedges, and forest trees, and fern filled ditches, and a little piece of water, deep and cool, where the swans sail all day long, and the silvery willows dip and sway with the wind.

Turn aside from the highway, and there it lies to day, and all the place brims over with grass, and boughs, and blossoms, and flowering beans, and wild dog roses; and there are a few cottages and cabins there near the pretty water, and farther there is an old church, sacred to St... Continue reading book >>

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