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قراءة كتاب White Lilac; or the Queen of the May

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‏اللغة: English
White Lilac; or the Queen of the May

White Lilac; or the Queen of the May

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 1

Amy Walton

"White Lilac; or the Queen of the May"

Chapter One.

A Bunch of Lilac.

“What’s in a name?”—Shakespeare.

Mrs James White stood at her cottage door casting anxious glances up at the sky, and down the hill towards the village. If it were fine the rector’s wife had promised to come and see the baby, “and certainly,” thought Mrs White, shading her eyes with her hand, “you might call it fine—for April.” There were sharp showers now and then, to be sure, but the sun shone between whiles, and sudden rays darted through her little window strong enough to light up the whole room. Their searching glances disclosed nothing she was ashamed of, for they showed that the kitchen was neat and well ordered, with bits of good substantial furniture in it, such as a long-bodied clock, table, and dresser of dark oak. These polished surfaces smiled back again cheerfully as the light touched them, and the row of pewter plates on the high mantelshelf glistened so brightly that they were as good as so many little mirrors. But beside these useful objects the sunlight found out two other things in the room, at which it pointed its bright finger with special interest. One of these was a large bunch of pure white lilac which stood on the window sill in a brown mug, and the other was a wicker cradle in which lay something very much covered up in blankets. After a last lingering look down the hill, where no one was in sight, Mrs White shut her door and settled herself to work, with the lilac at her elbow, and the cradle at her foot. She rocked this gently while she sewed, and turned her head now and then, when her needle wanted threading, to smell the delicate fragrance of the flowers. Her face was grave, with a patient and rather sad expression, as though her memories were not all happy ones; but by degrees, as she sat there working and rocking, some pleasant thought brought a smile to her lips and softened her eyes. This became so absorbing that presently she did not see a figure pass the window, and when a knock at the door followed, she sprang up startled to open it for her expected visitor.

“I’d most given you up, ma’am,” she said as the lady entered, “but I’m very glad to see you.”

It was not want of cordiality but want of breath which caused a beaming smile to be the only reply to this welcome. The hill was steep, the day was mild, and Mrs Leigh was rather stout. She at once dropped with a sigh of relief, but still smiling, into a chair, and cast a glance full of interest at the cradle, which Mrs White understood as well as words. Bending over it she peeped cautiously in amongst the folds of flannel.

“She’s so fast, it’s a sin to take her up, ma’am,” she murmured, “but I would like you to see her.”

Mrs Leigh had now recovered her power of speech. “Don’t disturb her for the world,” she said, “I’m not going away yet. I shall be glad to rest a little. She’ll wake presently, I dare say. What is it,” she continued, looking round the room, “that smells so delicious? Oh, what lovely lilac!” as her eye rested on the flowers in the window.

Mrs White had taken up her sewing again.

“I always liked the laylocks myself, ma’am,” she said, “partic’ler the white ones. It were a common bush in the part I lived as a gal, but there’s not much hereabouts.”

“Where did you get it?” asked Mrs Leigh, leaning forward to smell the pure-white blossoms; “I thought there was only the blue in the village.”

“Why, no more there is,” said Mrs White with a half-ashamed smile; “but Jem, he knows I’m a bit silly over them, and he got ’em at Cuddingham t’other day. You see, the day I said I’d marry him he gave me a bunch of white laylocks—and that’s ten years ago. Sitting still so much more than I’m used lately, with the baby, puts all sorts of foolishness into my head, and when you knocked just now it gave me quite a start, for the smell of the laylocks took me right back to the days when we were sweetheartin’.”

“How is Jem?” asked Mrs Leigh, glancing at a gun which stood in the chimney corner.

“He’s well, ma’am, thank you, but out early and home late. There’s bin poaching in the woods lately, and the keepers have a lot of trouble with ’em.”

“None of our people, I hope?” said the rector’s wife anxiously.

“Oh dear, no, ma’am! A gipsy lot—a cruel wild set, to be sure, from what Jem says, and fight desperate.”

There was a stir amongst the blankets in the cradle just then, and presently a little cry. The baby was awake. Very soon she was in Mrs Leigh’s arms, who examined the tiny face with great interest, while the mother stood by, silent, but eager for the first expression of admiration.

“What a beautifully fair child!” exclaimed Mrs Leigh.

“Everyone says that as sees her,” said Mrs White with quiet triumph. “She features my mother’s family—they all had such wonderful white skins. But,” anxiously, “you don’t think she looks weakly, do you, ma’am?”

“Oh, no,” answered Mrs Leigh in rather a doubtful tone. She stood up and weighed the child in her arms, moving nearer the window. “She’s a little thing, but I dare say she’s not the less strong for that.”

“It makes me naturally a bit fearsome over her,” said Mrs White; “for, as you know, ma’am, I’ve buried three children since we’ve bin here. Ne’er a one of ’em all left me. It seems when I look at this little un as how I must keep her. I don’t seem as if I could let her go too.”

“Oh, she’ll grow up and be a comfort to you, I don’t doubt,” said Mrs Leigh cheerfully. “Fair-complexioned children are very often wonderfully healthy and strong. But really,” she continued, looking closely at the baby’s face, “I never saw such a skin in my life. Why, she’s as white as milk, or snow, or a lily, or—” She paused for a comparison, and suddenly added, as her eye fell on the flowers, “or that bunch of lilac.”

“You’re right, ma’am,” agreed Mrs White with a smile of intense gratification.

“And if I were you,” continued Mrs Leigh, her good-natured face beaming all over with a happy idea, “I should call her ‘Lilac’. That would be a beautiful name for her. Lilac White. Nothing could be better; it seems made for her.”

Mrs White’s expression changed to one of grave doubt.

“It do seem as how it would fit her,” she said; “but that’s not a Christian name, is it, ma’am?”

“Well, it would make it one if you had her christened so, you see.”

“I was thinking of making so bold as to call her ‘Annie’, and to ask you to stand for her, ma’am.”

“And so I will, with pleasure. But don’t call her Annie; we’ve got so many Annies in the parish already it’s quite confusing—and so many Whites too. We should have to say ‘Annie White on the hill’ every time we spoke of her. I’m always mixing them up as it is. Don’t call her Annie, Mrs White, Lilac’s far better. Ask your husband what he thinks of it.”

“Oh! Jem, he’ll think as I do, ma’am,” said Mrs White at once; “it isn’t Jem.”

“Who is it, then? If you both like the name it can’t matter to anyone else.”

“Well, ma’am,” said Mrs White hesitatingly, as she took her child from Mrs Leigh, and rocked it gently in her arms, “they’ll all say down below in the village, as how it’s a fancy sort of a name, and maybe when she grows up they’ll laugh at her for it. I shouldn’t like to feel as how I’d given her a name to be made game of.”

But Mrs Leigh was much too pleased with