Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

rude in construction by those who are acquainted with the fine large wagons of England; because, besides being clumsy in fabric, they are frequently drawn only by cows or oxen, yoked in pairs by the forehead. Yet they carry large burdens of field produce, and answer very well for the wants of the people. Jules Asselin had regular employment in the making of wheels for these vehicles ; and as he was a sober, industrious, and tender-hearted man, fond of domestic happiness, it may be supposed that he was married, and dwelt in a cottage in the village.

It was a pleasure to see the small patch of green or meadow at Artenay, on the occasion of any summer or autumn festival. While the elder cottagers sat at their doors enjoying the sunshine and the scene of gaiety before them, the younger members of the rural community danced in groups on the village-green to the merry strains of a violin, played by a native musician. At these scenes of festivity, as is remarked by strangers passing through the country, everything is conducted with much decorum. The people are happy, and relieve the gloom that might creep upon their existence by a light-hearted gaiety; a portion of every festival-day, in fine weather, devoted to the dance and the gleesome song.

At one time mingling in such festivities with neighbours, Jules Asselin and his wife now principally looked on as spectators from the bench at their cottage door; and their pleasure was greatly increased when their two children, Genevieve and Maurice, were old enough to play in the open air around them. These children were regarded with more than ordinary affection. They were twins, and, though differing in sex, bore a remarkable resemblance to each other in features, and also in dispositions.

“How thankful to God should we be,' said Jules Asselin one day to his wife Lisette, 'that He has given us two such good and healthy children. What a blessing it is to a poor man to be spared seeing his infants pining and sickly, or, what is worse, possessed of bad tempers and dispositions !'

"We should indeed be grateful,' replied Madame Asselin. 'I have never seen them a moment ill since they were babies, though I fear Maurice is scarcely robust enough for a working-man, which of course he must be. He, as well as his sister, however, are considered the most orderly children in the village ; and Monsieur, the curé, was only the other day observing to me, that their mutual attachment was quite charming- But, dear Jules, I think you have suddenly looked melancholy. What is the matter?'

'Nothing, Lisette ; I was only thinking '

"You were only thinking! Well, tell me your thoughts. You know you should have no secrets from your little wife.'

“Well, then, dear, a sort of feeling came over me; I felt a little distressed as to what would come of these little creatures should Providence remove us from our present earthly scene.'

"Oh, Jules, don't talk so; it makes me so very melancholy. You know we are both young yet, and I see nothing against our living many years. Let us hope the best at anyrate, and in the meantime do our duty. You remember what the good curé said one day in his sermon—what great thing it is for a man to know, but how much greater to perform his duty! And if any man does his duty to his family, I am sure you do. Come, cheer up, dear Jules.'

'I will. It was a mere passing notion; but now, that the thing occurs to my mind, I am resolved to do my best to give Maurice and Genevieve a good education. They shall go to school as soon as they are able to understand instruction, and I will take all the care I can to train them up at home. I will myself teach Maurice drawing and a love of art.'

Oh, delightful! and I will teach Genevieve to sew and spin, and be a nice housewife. And how pleasant it will be to be all together in the winter evenings round the stove ; and perhaps we shall try to sing in parts the chanson,“ When swallows return in early spring," or * The tender Musette," or some other pretty country song.'

Thus Jules Asselin and his wife Lisette would picture to themselves visions of domestic felicity; and until the twins were nine years of age, everything went on according to their wishes. Who, however, can tell what a day may bring forth ? One morning Jules proceeded to his work as usual ; in the evening he lay stretched on his bed a lifeless corpse. A scene of joy was suddenly a scene of mourning. Poor Jules was killed by the overturning upon him of a carrier's loaded wagon, the wheel of which he had been called on to repair. The accident was universally mourned throughout the district. All felt acutely the loss of so worthy a man, and were distressed for the fate of the unhappy Lisette and her interesting twin children.

Misfortunes, it is said, seldom come single. Lisette, a naturally impulsive being, was overwhelmed with the blow, and was in a situalion which rendered it doubly afflicting. The shock was too great for her to bear In three days she lay stretched a lifeless form beside her faithful Jules, and both were buried in one grave.

This second disaster still more excited the sympathy of the neighbours in favour of the twins, now orphans in helpless childhood. The master-wheelwright who had einployed Jules, bound in some respects by duty, but still more by a benevolence of disposition, resolved that he would henceforth be a father to the orphans, and take them home to live with his own family—a species of adoption common enough in the villages of France, where the dwellers beneath their thatched roofs consider themselves as the natural guardians of the orphans left among them without home or support.

Briefly must five years be passed over, during which Maurice was instructed in his father's trade, and his sister Genevieve made herself useful in all possible ways to the new parent beneath whose eye they grew up lovingly together. But their protector, too, was taken from them by death; and the son who succeeded him in the workshop did not, alas ! inherit with it his father's considerate tenderness for the poor twins. The boy he tasked beyond his strength, and exacted from the girl such humiliating drudgery, that even gratitude to their benefactor could not long reconcile them to slavery with his successor.

Abundance of employment could have been found for the orphans separately; but to live apart had become to them a thought more formidable than any extent of privation together. To work for weeks, perhaps, at distant farms, and leave Genevieve to the mercy of strangers, seemed to Maurice deserting both duty and happiness; while, if Genevieve plied her late mother's skill with some village sempstress, the idea of who would care for Maurice, make ready his simple meals, and keep in order his rustic wardrobe, would haunt her to a degree which made remaining asunder impossible.

Together, then, like two saplings from one parent stem, which the force of the blast but intwines more inseparably, did the orphans struggle on through increasing hardships, until a rich farmer, compassionating their condition, and moved by their rare attachment, once more opened to them a joint home, on terms which, since one roof was to shelter them, they were too much overjoyed even to inquire into.

Here, for two more happy years, the lad found on the extensive farm ample employment--now in his original vocation, making and mending the agricultural implements of the establishment, now as a willing sharer in the labours of the field; while the care of the poultry, and all the miscellaneous duties of a farm in France, lent robustness to the frame of his cheerful sister. A passing smile or shake of the hand through the day sufficed to lighten its toils to both; and to sit together over the fire, or on some sunny bank at its close, was an extent of happiness they never dreamt of exchanging.

But the course of true love'-even when hallowed, as here, by the sweetest ties of nature--seldom long 'runs smooth. Harvest-in Beauce a season of peculiar activity and importance- :-was progressing amid the most strenuous exertions of old and young; and Maurice, always earliest and latest in the field, though not gifted with a robust, had yet an agile frame, was eagerly engaged in a sultry afternoon in placing before an impending storm, the crowning sheaf on an immensely high stalk, when one more vivid flash than

ordinary of the lightning, which had long been playing along the unenclosed cornfields, struck the exposed pinnacle to which the poor lad clung, and hurled him down, breathless and senseless among the pile of sheaves collected for a fresh stack below.

When the other workmen, many of them stunned by the same shock, gathered round their late fellow-labourer, they at first concluded him to be dead. A faint sigh undeceived them ; but his eyes, when they opened, rolled vacantly round, and vainly did he attempt

22

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

to utter a word. By feeble signs he pointed to his head as the seat of some fatal injury, of which no external trace could, however, be descried; but the effects of it were manifest in his limbs, which, on their attempting to raise him, bent utterly powerless beneath his weight, and he again fainted away.

It was a sad and sobered group who followed to the farm the wagon containing the well-nigh lifeless body of their light-hearted young comrade.

But how powerless are words to describe the state of his sister, when the brother on whom she doted was brought home to her more dead than alive-how she suppressed the first burst of uncontrollable agony, to sit on the bed to which she had helped to lift him-his poor head resting on her bosom, her eyes fixed on her darling twin, in long and vain expectation of some sign of returning life !

Faint tokens came at last to reward her ; but the glance of the slowly-reviving one rolled wildly around, without resting on anything, till it met the fixed one of Genevieve, when a scarce perceptible smile crossed the pale lips of the sufferer. 'He knows me l'exclaimed the fond girl. God has spared him to me, and will yet grant me to be the means of restoring him by my care and kindness. We were born together, and together I feel we must live or die !'

The well-known voice found its way to the inmost heart of poor Maurice ; fain would he have spoken a word of love and comfort in return, but his paralysed tongue refused its office. All he could do was to point, with a feeble hand, to his forehead, and express by faint signs, that there was the seat of the malady. The most skilful physician of the district, after an hour of unremitting attention, came to the conclusion that paralysis had, for the present, affected both the head and lower limbs, but that the favourable symptom of his being able to point to the former gave hopes that consciousness and reason would soon be fully restored.

And when, at the end of a week, the poor fellow stammered forth a few broken words, the first of which were 'Genevieve' and 'sister,' who can tell her joy to be thus called on by the companion of her birth. To think he would no longer be a breathing mass, without the power of expressing a thought or a feeling, seemed reward enough for all her nights and days of anxious watching by his side. Since he had begun to speak, he would, no doubt, soon regain the use of his limbs. His arms got daily stronger, and to the precious word ' sister' he would by degrees add the welcome ones 'dear girl,' 'my help, my comfort, and the yet more affecting request that she would 'take pity on him.'

'Oh yes, yes!' she would eagerly answer ; 'God will take pity on us, and let me make you well by dint of care and kindness. But if, as she thus spoke, she inadvertently kissed a little more fervently than usual the sick head which rested on her faithful bosom, the screams of the poor sufferer, and convulsive fits on the slightest

ness.

pressure, revealed the unchanged cause of his continued helpless

The doctor, once more summoned, pronounced the debility of the lower limbs all but hopeless; and the severe winter of 1823 was passed by the twins in a state more easily to be imagined than described. Genevieve devoted all its long nights, and every moment she could snatch from her work through the day, to the couch of the unfortunate cripple, who, though resigned to his own condition, yet prayed to be released by death from being a burden to all around him—to the sister especially whose youth and strength he was wasting, and whose every prospect in life he felt blighted by the calamity which had overtaken his own early career.

'Do you wish me dead when you speak so, Maurice?' she would sobbingly reply to these heart-rending lamentations. 'Do you think I could stay upon earth if you go and leave me? I sometimes think I am going too, for my poor head throbs, and my limbs bend under me at times, almost like yours.'

'I well believe it,' the poor cripple would reply ; 'but it is all fatigue. You take no rest either by day or night!'

“Oh, never mind that ; God has given me strength to work, and the hope of seeing you at work again at your old trade keeps me up. Never lose heart, brother dear ! You've seen the corn beat flat many a time and oft by the wind and rain, yet half a day's brisk breeze and sunshine set it all up again finer than ever!'

These encouraging words from the most sensible, as well as most loving of sisters, had the effect of making the poor lad at times look forward to possible recovery; and to keep up his industrious habits and neatness of hand, he amused himself ere long in his chair with bits of ingenious workmanship; among others, a little model of a four-wheeled wagon on springs, in which it was his utmost ambition to be drawn by some of his comrades to church or the village green on the evening of a holiday, to witness, since he could not share in, the sports of his rustic neighbours.

His sister, who was in the secret, and had furnished all that was required for the construction of the pet model of a carriage, had her own views on the subject, which were, that it should be drawn by no one but herself. And, harnessed in what was to her a complete car of triumph, she was able, after repeated trials, to fulfil her brother's darling wish, that he should attend, on Easter Sunday, the parish church of Artenay, about a mile distant from the farm. The only difficulty (at least in the eyes of the delighted girl) was, how to get her brother-unable to endure, without agony, the slightest jolt over the roughly-paved village street leading to the church ; but so completely had her devoted conduct won on her fellow-servants and their master, that the whole distance (a considerable one) was found by dawn on the eventful day so thickly covered with straw, as to obviate the slightest injury to the invalid. From nine in the

« ForrigeFortsæt »