1839-1908 Ouida.

Wisdom, wit, and pathos : selected from the works of Ouida online

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of himself. Men are always optimists when they look
inwards, and pessimists when they look round them."

I yawned a little ; nothing is so pleasant, as I have
known later, as to display your worldly wisdom in epigram
and dissertation, but it is a trifle tedious to hear another
person display theirs.

When you talk yourself, you think how witty, how
original, how acute you are ; but when another does so,
you are very apt to think only What a crib from Roche-
foucauld !


P> RUSSELS has stones that are sermons, or rather that
are quaint, touching, illuminated legends of the
middle ages, which those who run may read.

Brussels is a gay little city that lies as bright within its
girdle of woodland as any butterfly that rests upon moss.

The city has its ways and wiles of Paris. It decks it-
self with white and gold. It has music under its trees
and soldiers in its streets, and troops marching and
counter-marching along its sunny avenues. It has blue
and pink, and yellow and green, on its awnings and on
its house-fronts. It has a merry open-air life on its pave-
ments at little marble tables before little gay-coloured
cafe's. It has gilded balconies and tossing flags and
comic operas, and leisurely pleasure-seekers, and tries
always to believe and make the world believe that it is
Paris in very truth.

But this is only the Brussels of the noblesse and the

There is a Brussels that is better than this a Brussels
that belongs to the old burgher-life, to the artists and the
craftsmen, to the master masons of Moyen-age, to the
same spirit and soul that once filled the free men of Ghent
and the citizens of Bruges and the besieged of Leyden,
and the blood of Egmont and of Home.

Down there by the water-side, where the old quaint
walls lean over the yellow sluggish stream, and the green


barrels of the Antwerp barges swing against the dusky
piles of the crumbling bridges :

In the grey square desolate courts of the old palaces,
where in cobwebbed galleries and silent chambers the
Flemish tapestries drop to pieces :

In the great populous square, where, above the clamor-
ous and rushing crowds, the majestic front of the Maison
du Roi frowns against the sun, and the spires and pin-
nacles of the Burgomaster's gathering-halls tower into
the sky in all the fantastic luxuriance of Gothic fancy :

Under the vast shadowy wings of angels in the stillness
of the cathedral, across whose sunny aisles some little
child goes slowly all alone, laden with lilies for the Feast
of the Assumption, till their white glory hides its curly
head :

In all strange quaint old-world niches withdrawn from
men in silent grass-grown corners, where a twelfth-cen-
tury corbel holds a pot of roses, or a Gothic arch yawns
beneath a wool-warehouse, or a water-spout with a grin-
ning faun's head laughs in the grim humour of the Moyen-
nge above the bent head of a young lace-worker ;

In all these, Brussels, although more worldly than her
sisters of Ghent and Bruges, and far more worldly yet
than her Teuton cousins of Freiburg and Niirnberg,
Brussels is in her own way still like some monkish story,
mixed up with the Romaunt of the Rose, or rather like
some light French vaudeville, all jests and smiles, illus-
trated in motley contrast with helm and hauberk, cope
and cowl, praying knights and righting priests, winged
griffins and nimbused saints, flame-breathing dragons
and enamoured princes, all mingled together in the
illuminated colours and the heroical grotesque romance
of the Middle Ages.

And it was this side of the city that Bdbee knew, and
she loved it well and would not leave it for the market
of the Madeleine.


TT was a warm grey evening, the streets were full;
* there were blossoms in all the balconies, and gay
colours in all the dresses. The old tinker put his tools
together and whispered to her

" Be'be'e, as it is your feast-day, come and stroll in St.
Hubert's gallery, and I will buy you a horn of sugar-
plums or a ribbon, and we can see the puppet-show after-
wards, eh ? "

But the children were waiting at home : she would
not spend the evening in the city ; she only thought she
would just kneel a moment in the cathedral and say a
little prayer or two for a minute the saints were so good
in giving her so many friends.

There is something very touching in the Netherlander^
relation with his Deity. It is all very vague to him ; a
jumble of veneration and familiarity, of sanctity and pro-
fanity, without any thought of being familiar, or any idea
of being profane.

There is a homely poetry, an innocent affectionateness,
in it characteristic of the people.

He talks to his good angel Michel, and to his friend
that dear little Jesus, much as he would talk to the shoe-
maker over the way, or the cooper's child in the door-

It is a very unreasonable, foolish, clumsy sort of reli-
gion, this theology in wooden shoes ; it is half grotesque,
half pathetic ; the grandmothers pass it on to the grand-
children, as they pass the bowl of potatoes round the
stove in the long winter nights ; it is as silly as possible,
but it comforts them as they carry faggots over the frozen
canals or wear their eyes blind over the squares of lace ;
and it has in it the supreme pathos of a perfect confidence,
of an utter childlike and undoubting trust.

This had been taught to Be'be'e, and she went to sleep
every night in the firm belief that the sixteen little angels
of the Flemish prayer kept watch and ward over her bed.


CHE said her prayer, and thanked the saints for all
^ their gifts and goodness, her clasped hands against
her silver shield ; her basket on the pavement by her ;
abovehead the sunset rays streaming purple and crimson
and golden through the painted windows that are the
wonder of the world.

When her prayer was done she still kneeled there ; her
head thrown back to watch the light ; her hands clasped
still ; and on her upturned face the look that made the
people say, "What does she see? the angels or the

She forgot everything. She forgot the cherries at home,
and the children even. She was looking upward at the
stories of the painted panes ; she was listening to the
messnge of the dying sunrays ; she was feeling vaguely,
wistfully, unutterably the tender beauty of the sacred
place and the awful wonder of the world in which she
with her sixteen years was all alone, like a little blue
cornflower amongst the wheat that goes for grist, and
the barley that makes men drunk.

For she was alone, though she had so many friends.
Quite alone sometimes, for God had been cruel to her,
and had made her a lark without song.

I_FE went leisurely, travelling up the bright Meuse
* * river, and across the monotony of the plains, then
green with wheat a foot high, and musical with the many
bells of the Easter kermesses in the quaint old-world

There was something so novel, so sleepy, so harmless,
so mediaeval, in the Flemish life, that it soothed him.
He had been swimming all his life in salt, sea-fed rapids ;
this sluggish, dull canal-water, mirroring between its
rushes a life that had scarcely changed for centuries, had
a charm for him.



He stayed awhile in Antwerpen. The town is ugly
and beautiful ; it is like a dull, quaint, gres de Flandre
jug, that has precious stones set inside its rim. It is a
burgher ledger of bales and barrels, of sale and barter, of
loss and gain ; but in the heart of it there are illuminated
leaves of missal vellum, all gold and colour, and monkish
story and heroic ballad, that could only have been exe-
cuted in the days when Art was a religion.

H to-morrow perhaps, or next year or when
Fate fancies.

" Or rather when I choose," he thought to himself,
and let his eyes rest with a certain pleasure on the little
feet that went beside him in the grass, and the pretty
neck that showed ever and again, as the frills of her linen
bodice were blown back by the wind, and her own quick

Be"be"e looked also up at him ; he was very handsome,
or seemed so to her, after the broad, blunt, characterless
faces of the Brabantois around her. He walked with an
easy grace, he was clad in picture-like velvets, he had a
beautiful poetic head, and eyes like deep-brown waters,
and a face like one of Jordaens' or Rembrandt's cavaliers
in the galleries where she used to steal in of a Sunday,
and look up at the paintings, and dream of what that
world could be in which those people had lived.

" You are of the people of Rubes' country, are you
not ? " she asked him.

" Of what country, my dear ? "

"Of the people that live in the gold frames," said
Be'be'e, quite seriously. " In the galleries, you know. I
know a charwoman that scrubs the floors of the Arenen-
berg, and she lets me in sometimes to look and you are
just like those great gentlemen in the gold frames, only
you have not a hawk and a sword, and they always have.


I used to wonder where they came from, for they are not
like any of us one bit, and the charwoman she is Lisa
Dredel, and lives in the street of the Pot d'Etain always
said, ' Dear heart, they all belong to Rubes' land we
never see their like now-a-days.' But you must come out
of Rubes' land at least, I think so ; do you not?"

He caught her meaning ; he knew that Rubes was the
homely abbreviation of Rubens, that all the Netherlanders
used, and he guessed the idea that was reality to this little,
lonely, fanciful mind.

" Perhaps I do," he answered her with a smile, for it
was not worth his while to disabuse her thoughts of any
imagination that glorified him to her. " Do you not want
to see Rubes' world, little one ? To see the gold and the
grandeur, and the glitter of it all ? never to toil or get
tired ? always to move in a pageant ? always to live like
the hawks in the paintings you talk of, with silver bells
hung round you, and a hood all sewn with pearls?"

" No," said Be'bde, simply. " I should like to see it
just to see it, as one looks through a grating into the
king's grapehouses here. But I should not like to live in
it. I love my hut, and the starling, and the chickens
and what would the garden do without me? and the
children, and the old Anne'mie? I could not anyhow,
anywhere be any happier than I am. There is only one
thing I wish."

" And what is that ? "

"To know something. Not to be so ignorant. Just
look I can read a little, it is true ; my hours, and the
letters, and when Krebs brings in a newspaper I can read
a little of it not much. I know French well, because
Antoine was French himself, and never did talk Flemish
to me ; and they, being Flemish, cannot, of course, read
the newspapers at all, and so think it very wonderful
indeed in me. But what I want is to know things, to
know all about what was before ever I was living. Ste.


Gudule now they say it was built hundreds of years
before ; and Rubes again they say he was a painter-
king in Antwerpen before the oldest woman like Anndmie
ever began to count time. I am sure books tell you all
those things, because I see the students coming and
going with them ; and when I saw once the millions of
books in the Rue de la Muse'e, I asked the keeper what
use they were for, and he said, 'to make men wise, my
dear.' But Bac the cobbler, who was with me, it was a
fete day Bac, he said, ' Do you not believe that, Be'be'e ?
they only muddle folk's brains ; for one book tells them
one thing, and another book another, and so on, till they
are dazed with all the contrary lying ; and if you see a
bookish man, be sure you see a very poor creature who
could not hoe a patch, or kill a pig, or stitch an upper-
leather, were it ever so.' But I do not believe that Bac
said right. Did he ? "

" I am not sure. On the whole, I think it is the truest
remark on literature I have ever heard, and one that
shows great judgment in Bac. Well ? "

" Well sometimes, you know," said Be'be'e, not under-
standing his answer, but pursuing her thoughts confiden-
tially ; " sometimes I talk like this to the neighbours, and
they laugh at me. Because Mere Krebs says that when
one knows how to spin, and sweep, and make bread, and
say one's prayers, and milk a goat or a cow, it is all a
woman wants to know this side of heaven. But for me,
I cannot help it when I look at those windows in the
cathedral, or at those beautiful twisted little spires
that are all over our Hotel de Ville, I want to know
who the men were that made them what they did and
thought how they looked and spoke how they learned
to shape stone into leaves and grasses like that how
they could imagine all those angel faces on the glass.
When I go alone in the quite early morning or at night
when it is still sometimes in winter I have to stay till


it is dark over the lace I hear their feet come after me,
and they whisper to me close, 'Look what beautiful things
we have done, Be'be'e, and you all forget us quite. We
did what never will die, but our names are as dead as
the stones.' And then I am so sorry for them and
ashamed. And I want to know more. Can you tell

He looked at her earnestly ; her eyes were shining, her
cheeks were warm, her little mouth was tremulous with

" Did any one ever speak to you in that way?" he asked

" No," she answered him. " It comes into my head of
itself. Sometimes I think the cathedral angels put it
there. For the angels must be tired, you know ; always
pointing to God and always seeing men turn away. I
used to tell Antoine sometimes. But he used to shake
his head and say that it was no use thinking ; most likely
Ste. Gudule and St. Michael had set the church down in
the night all ready made why not ? God made the trees,
and they were more wonderful, he thought, for his part.
And so perhaps they are, but that is no answer. And I
do want to know. I want some one who will tell me,
and if you come out of Rubes' country as I think, no
doubt you know everything, or remember it?"

He smiled.

"""THE Sun came and touched the lichens of the roof
* into gold.

Be'be'e smiled at it gaily as it rose above the tops of
the trees, and shone on all the little villages scattered
over the plains.

"Ah, dear Sun !" she cried to it. " I am going to be
wise. I am going into great Rubes' country. I am going
to hear of the Past and the Future. I am going to listen


to what the Poets say. The swallows never would tell
me anything ; but now I shall know as much as they
know. Are you not glad for me, O Sun ? "

The Sun came over the trees, and heard and said
nothing. If he had answered at all he must have said :

" The only time when a human soul is either wise or
happy, is in that one single moment when the hour of
my own shining or of the moon's beaming seems to that
single soul to be past and present and future, to be at
once the creation and the end of all things. Faust knew
that ; so will you."

But the Sun shone on and held his peace. He sees all
things ripen and fall. He can wait. He knows the end.
It is always the same.

He brings the fruit out of the peach-flower, and rounds
it and touches it into ruddiest rose and softest gold ; but
the sun knows well that the peach must drop whether
into the basket to be eaten by kings, or on to the turf to
be eaten by ants. What matter which very much after

The Sun is not a cynic ; he is only wise because he is
Life and He is death, the creator and the corrupter of all

" A ND where are you going so fast, as if those wooden
** shoes of yours were sandals of mercury ? "

"Mercury is that a shoemaker?"

" No, my dear. He did a terrible bit of cobbling once,
when he made Woman. But he did not shoe her feet
with swiftness that I know of ; she only runs away to be
run after, and if you do not pursue her, she comes back

Bebde did not understand at all.

" I thought God made women ? " she said 3 a little awe-


""THERE is a dignity of peasants as well as of kings
the dignity that comes from all absence of effort,
all freedom from pretence. Be'be'e had this, and she
had more still than this : she had the absolute sim-
plicity of childhood with her still.

Some women have it still when they are fourscore.

pROSPER BAR, who is a Calvinist, always says,
* " Do not mix up prayer and play ; you would not
cut a gherkin in your honey ;" but I do not know why
he called prayer a gherkin, because it is sweet enough
sweeter than anything, I think.

""THERE is not much change in the great Soignies
* woods. They are aisles on aisles of beautiful green
trees, crossing and recrossing ; tunnels of dark foliage
that look endless ; long avenues of beech, of oak, of elm,
or of fir, with the bracken and the brushwood growing
dense between; a delicious forest growth everywhere,
shady even at noon, and, by a little past midday, dusky
as evening ; with the forest fragrance, sweet and dewy,
all about, and under the fern the stirring of wild game,
and the white gleam of little rabbits, and the sound of
the wings of birds.

Soignies is not legend-haunted like the Black Forest,
nor king-haunted like Fontainebleau, nor sovereign of
two historic streams like the brave woods of Heidel-
berg ; nor wild and romantic, and broken with black
rocks, and poetised by the shade of Jaques, and swept
through by a perfect river, like its neighbours of Ar-
dennes ; nor throned aloft on mighty mountains like the
majestic oak glades of the Swabian hills of the ivory-


Soignies is only a Flemish forest in a plain, throwing
its shadow over corn-fields and cattle-pastures, with no
panorama beyond it and no wonders in its depth. But
it is a fresh, bold, beautiful forest for all that.

It has only green leaves to give green leaves always,
league after league ; but there is about it that vague
mystery which all forests have, and this universe of
leaves seems boundless, and Pan might dwell in it,
and St. Hubert, and John Keats.

c: T AM going to learn to be very wise, dear," she told
* them ; " I shall not have time to dance or to play."
" But people are not merry when they are wise, Be'be'e/'
said Franz, the biggest boy.

" Perhaps not," said Be'be'e ; " but one cannot be every-
thing, you know, Franz."

" But surely you would rather be merry than anything

" I think there is something better, Franz. I am not
sure ; I want to find out ; I will tell you when I know."
"Who has put that into your head, Be'be'e?"
" The angels in the Cathedral," she told them, and the
children were awed and left her, and went away to play
blindman's buff by themselves on the grass by the swan's

" But for all that the angels have said it," said Franz
to his sisters, " I cannot see what good it will be to her
to be wise, if she will not care any longer afterwards for
almond gingerbread and currant cake."

""TO vice, innocence must always seem only a superior
* kind of chicanery.


" A Y, dear ; when the frost kills your brave rosebush,
** root and bud, do you think of the thorns that
pricked you, or only of the fair sweet-smelling things
that flowered all your summer ? "

CLOWERS belong to fairyland ; the flowers and the
* birds, and the butterflies are all that the world has
kept of its golden age ; the only perfectly beautiful things
on earth, joyous, innocent, half divine, useless, say they
who are wiser than God.

~VW"HEN the day was done, Be'be'e gave a quick sigh
" as she looked across the square. She had so
wanted to tell him that she was not ungrateful, and she
had a little moss-rose ready, with a sprig of sweetbriar,
and a tiny spray of maiden-hair fern that grew under
the willows, which she had kept covered up with a leaf
of sycamore all the day long.

No one would have it now.

The child went out of the place sadly, as the carillon
rang. There was only the moss-rose in her basket, and
the red and white currants that had been given her for
her dinner.

She went along the twisting, many-coloured, quaintly-
fashioned streets, till she came to the water-side.

It is very ancient, there still ; there are all manner of
old buildings, black and brown and grey, peaked roofs,
gabled windows, arched doors, crumbling bridges, twisted
galleries leaning to touch the dark surface of the canal,
dusky wharves crowded with barrels, and bales, and
cattle, and timber, and all the various freightage that
the good ships come and go with all the year round, to
and from the Zuyder Zee, and the Baltic water, and the


wild Northumbrian shores, and the iron-bound Scottish
headlands, and the pretty grey Norman seaports, and
the white sandy dunes of Holland, with the toy towns
and the straight poplar-trees.

Be'be'e was fond of watching the brigs and barges, that
looked so big to her, with their national flags flying, and
their tall masts standing thick as grass, and their tawny
sails flapping in the wind, and about them the sweet,
strong smell of that strange, unknown thing, the sea.

Sometimes the sailors would talk with her ; sometimes
some old salt, sitting astride of a cask, would tell her a
mariner's tale of far-away lands and mysteries of the
deep ; sometimes some curly-headed cabin-boy would
give her a shell or a plume of seaweed, and try and
make her understand what the wonderful wild water
was like, which was not quiet and sluggish and dusky
as this canal was, but was for ever changing and moving,
and curling and leaping, and making itself now blue as
her eyes, now black as that thunder-cloud, now white as
the snow that the winter wind tossed, now pearl-hued
and opaline as the convolvulus that blew in her own

And Be'be'e would listen, with the shell in her lap, and
try to understand, and gaze at the ships and then at the
sky beyond them, and try to figure to herself those strange
countries, to which these ships were always going, and
saw in fancy all the blossoming orchard province of green
France, and all the fir-clothed hills and rushing rivers of
the snow-locked Swedish shore, and saw too, doubtless,
many lands that had no place at all except in dream-
land, and were more beautiful even than the beauty of
the earth, as poets' countries are, to their own sorrow,

But this dull day Be'be'e did not go down upon the
wharf ; she did not want the sailor's tales ; she saw the
masts and the bits of bunting that streamed from them,


and they made her restless, which they had never done
before. Instead she went in at a dark old door and
climbed up a steep staircase that went up and up and
up, as though she were mounting Ste. Gudule's belfry
towers ; and at the top of it entered a little chamber in
the roof, where one square unglazed hole that served for
light looked out upon the canal, with all its crowded
craft, from the dainty schooner yacht, fresh as gilding
and holystone could make her, that was running for
pleasure to the Scheldt, to the rude, clumsy coal-barge,
black as night, that bore the rough diamonds of Belgium
to the snow-buried roofs of Christiania and Stromsoon.

In the little dark attic there was a very old woman in
a red petticoat and a high cap, who sat against the
window, and pricked out lace patterns with a pin on
thick paper. She was eighty-five years old, and could
hardly keep body and soul together.

Be'be'e, running to her, kissed her.

" O mother Annemie, look here ! Beautiful red and
white currants, and a roll ; I saved them for you. They
are the first currants we have seen this year. Me ? oh,
for me, I have eaten more than are good ! You know I
pick fruit like a sparrow, always. Dear mother Anne"mie,
are you better? Are you quite sure you are better to-

The little old withered woman, brown as a walnut and
meagre as a rush, took the currants, and smiled with a
childish glee, and began to eat them, blessing the child
with each crumb she broke off the bread.

" Why had you not a grandmother of your own, my
little one?" she mumbled. " How good you would have
been to her, Be'be'e ? '"'

" Yes," said Be'be'e seriously, but her mind could not
grasp the idea. It was easier for her to believe the
fanciful lily-parentage of Antoine's stories. " How much

Online Library1839-1908 OuidaWisdom, wit, and pathos : selected from the works of Ouida → online text (page 12 of 39)