Part 2 out of 3
"Marie, I like you, and I am very unfortunate in not making you like me.
If you would take me for your husband, neither father-in-law nor
relations nor neighbors nor advice could prevent me from giving myself
to you. I know you would make my children happy and teach them to
respect their mother's memory, and, as my conscience would be at rest, I
could satisfy my heart. I have always been fond of you, and now I am so
in love with you that if you should ask me to spend my life fulfilling
your thousand wishes, I would swear on the spot to do it. Pray, pray,
see how I love you and forget my age! Just think what a false idea it is
that people have that a man of thirty is old. Besides, I am only
twenty-eight! a girl is afraid of being criticised for taking a man ten
or twelve years older than she is, because it isn't the custom of the
province; but I have heard that in other places they don't think about
that; on the other hand, they prefer to give a young girl, for her
support, a sober-minded man and one whose courage has been put to the
test, rather than a young fellow who may go wrong, and turn out to be a
bad lot instead of the nice boy he is supposed to be. And then, too,
years don't always make age. That depends on a man's health and
strength. When a man is worn out by overwork and poverty, or by evil
living, he is old before he's twenty-five. While I--But you're not
listening to me, Marie."
"Yes, I am, Germain, I hear what you say," replied little Marie; "but I
am thinking of what my mother has always told me: that a woman of sixty
is much to be pitied when her husband is seventy or seventy-five and
can't work any longer to support her. He grows infirm, and she must take
care of him at an age when she herself is beginning to have great need
of care and rest. That is how people come to end their lives in the
"Parents are right to say that, I agree, Marie," said Germain; "but,
after all, they would sacrifice the whole of youth, which is the best
part of life, to provide against what may happen at an age when one has
ceased to be good for anything, and when one is indifferent about ending
his life in one way or another. But I am in no danger of dying of hunger
in my old age. I am in a fair way to save up something, because, living
as I do with my wife's people, I work hard and spend nothing. Besides, I
will love you so well, you know, that that will prevent me from growing
old. They say that when a man's happy he retains his youth, and I feel
that I am younger than Bastien just from loving you; for he doesn't love
you, he's too stupid, too much of a child to understand how pretty and
good you are, and made to be courted. Come, Marie, don't hate me, I am
not a bad man; I made my Catherine happy; she said before God, on her
death-bed, that she had never been anything but contented with me, and
she advised me to marry again. It seems that her heart spoke to her
child to-night, just as he went to sleep. Didn't you hear what he said?
and how his little mouth trembled while his eyes were looking at
something in the air that we couldn't see! He saw his mother, you may be
sure, and she made him say that he wanted you to take her place."
"Germain," Marie replied, greatly surprised and very grave, "you talk
straightforwardly, and all you say is true. I am sure that I should do
well to love you, if it wouldn't displease your relations too much; but
what would you have me do? my heart says nothing to me for you. I like
you very much; but although your age doesn't make you ugly, it frightens
me. It seems to me as if you were something like an uncle or godfather
to me; that I owe you respect, and that there would be times when you
would treat me as a little girl rather than as your wife and your equal.
And then my girl friends would laugh at me, perhaps, and although it
would be foolish to pay any attention to that, I think I should be
ashamed and a little bit sad on my wedding-day."
"Those are childish reasons; you talk exactly like a child, Marie!"
"Well, yes, I am a child," she said, "and that is just why I am afraid
of a man who knows too much. You see, I'm too young for you, for you are
finding fault with me already for talking foolishly! I can't have more
sense than belongs to my years."
"Alas! _mon Dieu_! how I deserve to be pitied for being so awkward and
for my ill-success in saying what I think! Marie, you don't love me,
that's the fact; you think I am too simple and too dull. If you loved me
a little, you wouldn't see my defects so plainly. But you don't love me,
"Well, it isn't my fault," she replied, a little wounded by his dropping
the familiar form of address he had hitherto used; "I do the best I can
while I listen to you, but the harder I try, the less able I am to make
myself believe that we ought to be husband and wife."
Germain did not reply. He hid his face in his hands and it was
impossible for little Marie to tell whether he was crying or sulking or
asleep. She was a little disturbed to see him so depressed, and to be
unable to divine what was going on in his mind; but she dared say no
more to him, and as she was too much astonished by what had taken place
to have any desire to go to sleep again, she waited impatiently for
daybreak, continuing to keep up the fire and watching the child, whom
Germain seemed to have forgotten. Germain, meanwhile, was not asleep; he
was not reflecting on his lot, nor was he devising any bold stroke, or
any plan of seduction. He was suffering keenly, he had a mountain of
_ennui_ upon his heart. He wished he were dead. Everything seemed to be
turning out badly for him, and if he could have wept, he would not have
done it by halves. But there was a little anger with himself mingled
with his suffering, and he was suffocating, unable and unwilling to
When day broke and the noise in the fields announced the fact to
Germain, he took his hands from his face and rose. He saw that little
Marie had not slept, either, but he could think of nothing to say to her
to show his solicitude. He was utterly discouraged. He concealed Grise's
saddle in the bushes once more, took his bag over his shoulder, and
said, taking his son's hand:
"Now, Marie, we'll try and finish our journey. Do you want me to take
you to Ormeaux?"
"We will go out of the woods together," she replied, "and when we know
where we are, we will go our separate ways."
Germain said nothing. He was wounded because the girl did not ask him to
escort her to Ormeaux, and he did not realize that he had made the offer
in a tone that seemed to challenge a refusal.
A wood-cutter, whom they met within two hundred paces, pointed out the
path they must take, and told them that after crossing the great meadow
they had only to go, in the one case straight ahead, in the other to
the left, to reach their respective destinations, which, by the way,
were so near together that the houses at Fourche could be distinctly
seen from the farm of Ormeaux, and _vice versa_.
When they had thanked the wood-cutter and passed on, he called them back
to ask if they had not lost a horse.
"I found a fine gray mare in my yard," he said, "where she may have gone
to escape the wolf. My dogs barked all night long, and at daybreak I saw
the beast under my shed; she's there still. Go and look at her, and if
you know her, take her."
Germain, having described Grise and being convinced that it was really
she, started back to get his saddle. Little Marie thereupon offered to
take the child to Ormeaux, where he could come and get him after he had
paid his respects at Fourche.
"He isn't very clean after the night we have passed," she said. "I will
brush his clothes, wash his pretty little face, and comb his hair, and
when he's all spick and span, you can present him to your new family."
"How do you know that I am going to Fourche?" rejoined Germain testily.
"Perhaps I shan't go there."
"Oh! yes, Germain, you ought to go, and you will," said the girl.
"You are in a great hurry to have me married to somebody else, so that
you can be sure I won't make myself a nuisance to you."
"Come, come, Germain, don't think any more about that; that's an idea
that came to you in the night, because our unpleasant adventure
disturbed your wits a little. But now you must be reasonable again; I
promise to forget what you said to me and never to mention it to any
"Oh! mention it, if you choose. I am not in the habit of taking back
what I say. What I said to you was true and honest, and I shan't blush
for it before any one."
"Very good; but if your wife knew that you had thought of another woman
just at the moment you called on her, it might turn her against you. So
be careful what you say now; don't look at me like that, with such a
strange expression, before other people. Think of Pere Maurice, who
relies on your obedience, and who would be very angry with me if I
turned you from doing as he wants you to. Good-by, Germain; I'll take
Petit-Pierre with me so as to force you to go to Fourche. I keep him as
"Do you want to go with her?" said the ploughman to his son, seeing
that he was clinging to little Marie's hands and following her
"Yes, father," replied the child, who had been listening and understood
in his own way what they had been saying unsuspectingly before him. "I
am going with my darling Marie: you can come and get me when you're done
getting married; but I want Marie to be my little mother, just the
"You see that he wants it to be so," Germain said to the young girl.
"Listen, Petit-Pierre," he added, "I want her to be your mother and stay
with you always: she's the one that isn't willing. Try to make her do
what I want her to."
"Don't you be afraid, papa, I'll make her say yes: little Marie always
does what I want her to."
He walked away with the girl. Germain was left alone, more depressed and
irresolute than ever.
THE VILLAGE LIONESS
However, when he had repaired the disorder of travel in his clothes and
his horse's accoutrements, when he was mounted upon Grise and had
ascertained the road to Fourche, he reflected that there was no drawing
back and that he must forget that night of excitement as a dangerous
He found Pere Leonard in the doorway of his white house, sitting on a
pretty wooden bench painted spinach green. There were six stone steps
leading to the frontdoor, showing that the house had a cellar. The wall
between the garden and hemp-field was roughcast with lime and pebbles.
It was an attractive place; one might almost have taken it for the abode
of a substantial bourgeois.
Germain's prospective father-in-law came to meet him, and, after five
minutes spent in questioning him concerning his whole family, he added
this phrase, invariably used to question courteously those whom one
meets as to the object of their journey: "So you have come out this way
for a little ride, eh?"
"I came to see you," replied the ploughman, "and to offer you this
little gift of game from my father-in-law, and to say, also from him,
that you would know my purpose in coming."
"Ha! ha!" laughed Pere Leonard, patting his round paunch, "I see, I
hear, I understood!" And he added, with a wink: "You'll not be alone in
paying your respects, my young friend. There are three in the house
already, dancing attendance like you. I don't turn anybody away, and I
should be hard put to it to decide against any one of them, for they're
all good matches. However, on account of Pere Maurice and the quality of
your lands, I should prefer you. But my daughter's of age and mistress
of her own property; so she will do as she pleases. Go in and introduce
yourself; I hope you may draw the lucky number!"
"Pardon, excuse me," replied Germain, greatly surprised to find himself
one of several, where he had expected to be alone. "I didn't know that
your daughter was already provided with suitors, and I didn't come to
dispute for her with others."
"If you thought that because you were slow in coming," retorted Pere
Leonard, with undiminished good-humor, "you would catch my daughter
napping, you made a very great mistake, my boy. Catherine has something
to attract husbands with, and she'll have only too many to choose from.
But go into the house, I tell you, and don't lose courage. She's a woman
worth disputing for."
And, pushing Germain by the shoulders with rough good-humor, "Here,
Catherine," he cried, entering the house, "here's one more!"
This jovial but vulgar manner of being introduced to the widow, in the
presence of her other suitors, put the finishing touch to the
ploughman's confusion and annoyance. He felt ill at ease, and stood for
some moments without venturing to turn his eyes on the fair one and her
The Widow Guerin was well made, and did not lack freshness. But the
expression of her face and her costume repelled Germain at the first
glance. She had a forward, self-satisfied air, and her mob-cap trimmed
with a triple row of lace, her silk apron, and her black lace fichu were
decidedly not in harmony with the idea he had conceived of a sedate,
This elegance in dress and her free and easy manners made her appear
old and ugly to him, although she was neither. He thought that such
coquettish attire and such playful manners would be well suited to the
age and keen wit of little Marie, but that such pleasantry on the
widow's part was heavy and stale, and that there was no distinction in
the way she wore her fine clothes.
The three suitors were sitting at a table laden with food and wine,
which were kept there for them through the whole of Sunday morning; for
Pere Leonard loved to exhibit his opulence, nor was the widow sorry to
display her fine plate and to keep open house like a woman of means.
Germain, simple and trustful as he was, did not lack penetration in his
observation of things, and for the first time in his life he stood on
the defensive while drinking. Pere Leonard had compelled him to take a
seat with his rivals, and, seating himself opposite him, he treated him
as handsomely as possible, and devoted himself to him with evident
partiality. The gift of game, despite the breach Germain had made in it
on his own account, was still considerable enough to produce an effect.
The widow seemed to appreciate it, and the suitors eyed it disdainfully.
Germain felt ill at ease in that company, and did not eat with any
heartiness. Pere Leonard rallied him about it.--"You seem very down in
the mouth," he said, "and you're sulking with your glass. You mustn't
let love spoil your appetite, for a fasting lover can't find so many
pretty things to say as the man who has sharpened up his wits with a
mouthful of wine."
Germain was mortified that it should be assumed that he was in love; and
the affected demeanor of the widow, who lowered her eyes with a smile,
like one who is sure of her game, made him long to protest against his
alleged surrender; but he feared to seem discourteous, so he smiled and
The widow's lovers seemed to him like three rustic clowns. They must
have been rich, or she would not have listened to their suits. One of
them was more than forty, and was about as stout as Pere Leonard;
another had but one eye, and drank so much that it made him stupid; the
third was young and not a bad-looking fellow; but he attempted to be
witty, and said such insane things that one could but pity him. But the
widow laughed as if she admired all his idiotic remarks, and therein she
gave no proof of good taste. Germain thought at first that she was in
love with the young man; but he soon perceived that he was himself the
recipient of marked encouragement, and that she wished him to yield more
readily to her charms. That was to him a reason for feeling and
appearing even colder and more solemn.
The hour of Mass arrived, and they left the table to attend in a body.
They had to go to Mers, a good half-league away, and Germain was so
tired that he would have been glad of an opportunity to take a nap
first: but he was not in the habit of being absent from Mass, and he
started with the others.
The roads were filled with people, and the widow walked proudly along,
escorted by her three suitors, taking the arm of one, then of another,
bridling up and carrying her head high. She would have been very glad to
exhibit the fourth to the passers-by; but it seemed so ridiculous to be
paraded thus in company by a petticoat, in everybody's sight, that he
kept at a respectful distance, talking with Pere Leonard and finding a
way to divert his thoughts and occupy his mind so that they did not seem
to belong to the party.
When they reached the village, the widow stopped to wait for them. She
was determined to make her entry with her whole suite; but Germain,
refusing to afford her that satisfaction, left Pere Leonard, spoke with
several people of his acquaintance, and entered the church by another
door. The widow was vexed with him.
After the Mass, she made her appearance in triumph on the greensward
where dancing was in progress, and opened three successive dances with
her three lovers. Germain watched her, and concluded that she danced
well, but with affectation.
"Well!" said Leonard, clapping him on the shoulder, "so you don't ask my
daughter to dance? You are altogether too bashful!"
"I don't dance since I lost my wife," the ploughman replied.
"Oh! but when you're looking for another, mourning's at an end in your
heart as well as in your clothes."
"That's no argument, Pere Leonard; besides, I feel too old, I don't care
for dancing any more."
"Hark ye," rejoined Leonard, leading him apart, "you took offence when
you entered my house, because you found the citadel already surrounded
by besiegers, and I see that you're very proud; but that isn't
reasonable, my boy. My daughter's used to being courted, especially
these last two years since her mourning came to an end, and it isn't her
place to make advances to you."
"Your daughter has been free to marry again for two years, you say, and
hasn't made up her mind yet?" said Germain.
"She doesn't choose to hurry, and she's right. Although she has rather a
lively way with her, and you may think she doesn't reflect much, she's a
woman of great good sense and one who knows very well what she's about."
"I don't see how that can be," said Germain ingenuously, "for she has
three gallants in her train, and if she knew what she wanted, at least
two of them would seem to her to be in the way and she would request
them to stay at home."
"Why so? you don't know anything about it, Germain. She doesn't want
either the old man or the one-eyed one or the young one, I'm almost
certain of it; but if she should turn them away, people would say she
meant to remain a widow and no others would come."
"Ah, yes! they act as a sign-post for her!"
"As you say. Where's the harm if they like it?"
"Every one to his taste!" said Germain.
"That wouldn't be to your taste, I see. But come, now, we can come to an
understanding: supposing that she prefers you, the field could be left
clear for you."
"Yes, supposing! And how long must I stand with my nose in the air
before I can find out?"
"That depends on yourself, I fancy, if you know how to talk and argue.
So far my daughter has understood very clearly that the best part of her
life would be the part that she passed in letting men court her, and she
doesn't feel in any hurry to become one man's servant when she can give
orders to several. And so, as long as the game pleases her, she can
divert herself with it; but if you please her more than the game, the
game may be stopped. All you have to do is not to be discouraged. Come
every Sunday, ask her to dance, give her to understand that you're on
the list, and if she finds you more likeable and better informed than
the others, I don't doubt that she'll tell you so some fine day."
"Excuse me, Pere Leonard, your daughter is entitled to act as she
pleases, and I have no right to blame her. I would act differently if I
were in her place; I'd be more honest, and I wouldn't let men throw away
their time who probably have something better to do than hang around a
woman who laughs at them. But, after all, if that entertains her and
makes her happy, it's none of my business. But I must tell you one thing
that is a little embarrassing for me to confess since this morning,
seeing that you began by making a mistake as to my intentions and didn't
give me any time to reply; so that you believe something that isn't so.
Pray understand that I didn't come here to ask for your daughter's hand,
but to buy a pair of oxen that you intend to take to the fair next week
and that my father-in-law thinks will suit him."
"I understand, Germain," said Leonard calmly; "you changed your mind
when you saw my daughter with her lovers. That's as you please. It seems
that what attracts one repels another, and you have the right to
withdraw as long as you haven't spoken yet. If you really want to buy
my oxen, come and look at them in the pasture; we'll talk it over, and
whether we strike a bargain or not, you'll come and take dinner with us
before you go back."
"I don't want you to put yourself out," replied Germain, "perhaps you
have business here; I'm a little tired of watching them dance and of
doing nothing. I'll go to look at your cattle, and join you later at
Thereupon, Germain slipped away and walked toward the meadows, where
Leonard had pointed out some of his beasts in the distance. It was true
that Pere Maurice wanted to buy, and Germain thought that if he should
take back a good yoke at a moderate price, he would be pardoned more
readily for having voluntarily failed to accomplish the real object of
He walked fast, and was soon within a short distance of Ormeaux.
Thereupon he felt that he must go and kiss his son and see little Marie
once more, although he had lost the hope and banished from his mind the
thought of owing his happiness to her. All that he had seen and
heard--the vain, giddy woman; the father, at once cunning and shallow,
who encouraged his daughter in her pride and disingenuous habits; the
imitation of city luxury, which seemed to him an offence against the
dignity of country manners; the time wasted in indolent, foolish
conversation, that household so different from his own, and, above all,
the profound discomfort that the husbandman feels when he lays aside his
laborious habits; all the _ennui_ and annoyance he had undergone within
the last few hours--made Germain long to be once more with his child and
his little neighbor. Even if he had not been in love with the latter, he
would have sought her none the less for distraction, and to restore his
mind to its accustomed channels.
But he looked in vain in the neighboring fields, he saw neither little
Marie nor little Pierre; and yet it was the time when the shepherds are
in the fields. There was a large flock in a pasture; he asked a young
boy who was tending them if the sheep belonged to the farm of Ormeaux.
"Yes," said the child.
"Are you the shepherd? do boys tend woolly beasts for the farmers in
"No. I'm tending 'em to-day because the shepherdess has gone away: she
"But haven't you a new shepherdess who came this morning?"
"Oh! yes! she's gone, too, already."
"What! gone? didn't she have a child with her?"
"Yes, a little boy; he cried. They both went away after they'd been here
"Where did they go?"
"Where they came from, I suppose. I didn't ask 'em."
"But what did they go away for?" said Germain, with increasing anxiety.
"Why, how do I know?"
"Didn't they agree about wages? but that must have been agreed on
"I can't tell you anything about it. I saw them go in and come out,
Germain went on to the farm and questioned the farm-hands. No one could
explain what had happened; but all agreed that, after talking with the
farmer, the girl had gone away without saying a word, taking with her
the child, who was weeping.
"Did they ill-treat my son?" cried Germain, his eyes flashing fire.
"He was your son, was he? How did he come to be with that girl? Where
are you from, and what's your name?"
Germain, seeing that his questions were answered by other questions,
according to the custom of the country, stamped his foot impatiently,
and asked to speak with the master.
The master was not there: he was not in the habit of staying the whole
day when he came to the farm. He had mounted his horse, and ridden off
to some other of his farms.
"But surely you can find out the reason of that young girl's going
away?" said Germain, assailed by keen anxiety.
The farm-hand exchanged a strange smile with his wife, then replied that
he knew nothing about it, that it did not concern him. All that Germain
could learn was that the girl and the child had gone in the direction of
Fourche. He hurried to Fourche: the widow and her lovers had not
returned, nor had Pere Leonard. The servant told him that a young girl
and a child had come there and inquired for him, but that she, not
knowing them, thought it best not to admit them and advised them to go
"Why did you refuse to let them in?" said Germain angrily. "Are you so
suspicious in these parts that you don't open your door to your
"Oh! bless me!" the servant replied, "in a rich house like this, one
has to keep a sharp lookout. I am responsible for everything when the
masters are away, and I can't open the door to everybody that comes."
"That's a vile custom," said Germain, "and I'd rather be poor than live
in fear like that. Adieu, girl! adieu to your wretched country!"
He inquired at the neighboring houses. Everybody had seen the
shepherdess and the child. As the little one had left Belair
unexpectedly, without being dressed for the occasion, with a torn blouse
and his little lamb's fleece over his shoulders; and as little Marie was
necessarily very shabbily dressed at all times, they had been taken for
beggars. Some one had offered them bread; the girl had accepted a piece
for the child, who was hungry, then she had walked away very fast with
him and had gone into the woods.
Germain reflected a moment, then asked if the farmer from Ormeaux had
not come to Fourche.
"Yes," was the reply; "he rode by on horseback a few minutes after the
"Did he ride after her?"
"Ah! you know him, do you?" laughed the village innkeeper, to whom he
had applied for information.
"Yes, to be sure; he's a devil of a fellow for running after the girls.
But I don't believe he caught that one; although, after all, if he had
"That's enough, thanks!" And he flew rather than ran to Leonard's
stable. He threw the saddle on Grise's back, leaped upon her, and
galloped away in the direction of the woods of Chanteloube.
His heart was beating fast with anxiety and wrath, the perspiration
rolled down his forehead. He covered Grise's sides with blood, although
the mare, when she found that she was on the way to her stable, did not
need to be urged to go at full speed.
THE OLD WOMAN
Germain soon found himself at the spot on the edge of the pool where he
had passed the night. The fire was still smoking; an old woman was
picking up what was left of the dead wood Marie had collected. Germain
stopped to question her. She was deaf, and misunderstood his questions.
"Yes, my boy," she said, "this is the Devil's Pool. It's a bad place,
and you mustn't come near it without throwing three stones in with your
left hand and crossing yourself with your right: that drives away the
spirits. Unless they do that, misfortune comes to those who walk around
"I didn't ask you about that," said Germain, drawing nearer to her and
shouting at the top of his voice: "Haven't you seen a girl and a young
child going through the woods?"
"Yes," said the old woman, "there was a small child drowned there!"
Germain shivered from head to foot; but luckily the old woman added:
"That was a long, long while ago; they put up a beautiful cross; but on
a fine stormy night the evil spirits threw it into the water. You can
still see one end of it. If any one had the bad luck to stop here at
night, he would be very sure not to be able to go away before dawn. It
would do him no good to walk, walk: he might travel two hundred leagues
through the woods and find himself still in the same place."--The
ploughman's imagination was impressed, do what he would, by what he
heard, and the idea of the misfortune which might follow, to justify the
remainder of the old woman's assertions, took such complete possession
of his brain that he felt cold all over his body. Despairing of
obtaining any additional information, he mounted his horse and began to
ride through the woods, calling Pierre at the top of his voice,
whistling, cracking his whip, breaking off branches to fill the forest
with the noise of his progress, then listening to see if any voice
answered; but he heard naught but the bells on the cows scattered among
the bushes, and the fierce grunting of pigs fighting over the acorns.
At last, Germain heard behind him the footsteps of a horse following in
his track, and a man of middle age, swarthy, robust, dressed like a
semi-bourgeois, shouted to him to stop. Germain had never seen the
farmer of Ormeaux; but an angry instinct led him to determine at once
that it was he. He turned, and, eyeing him from head to foot, waited to
hear what he had to say to him.
"Haven't you seen a young girl of fifteen or sixteen, with a little boy,
pass this way?" said the farmer, affecting an indifferent manner,
although he was visibly moved.
"What do you want of her?" demanded Germain, not seeking to disguise his
"I might tell you that that was none of your business, my friend, but as
I have no reason to hide it, I will tell you that she's a shepherdess I
hired for the year without knowing her.--When she came to the farm, she
seemed to me too young and not strong enough for the work. I thanked
her, but I insisted on paying her what her little journey had cost; and
she went off in a rage while my back was turned.--She was in such a
hurry that she even forgot part of her things and her purse, which
hasn't very much in it, to be sure; a few sous, I suppose!--but as I had
business in this direction, I thought I might meet her and give her what
she forgot and what I owe her."
Germain was too honest a soul not to hesitate when he heard that story,
which was possible at least, if not very probable. He fixed a piercing
gaze on the farmer, who bore his scrutiny with much impudence or else
with perfect innocence.
"I want to have a clear conscience," said Germain to himself, and,
restraining his indignation, he continued aloud:
"She's a girl from our neighborhood; I know her: she must be somewhere
about here. Let us go on together--we shall find her, I've no doubt."
"You are right," said the farmer. "Let's go on--but, if we don't find
her at the end of the path, I give it up--for I must take the Ardentes
"Oho!" thought the ploughman, "I won't leave you! even if I should have
to twist around the Devil's Pool with you for twenty-four hours!"
"Stay!" said Germain suddenly, fixing his eyes on a clump of furze which
was moving back and forth in a peculiar way: "hola! hola! Petit-Pierre,
my child, is that you?"
The child, recognizing his father's voice, leaped out of the bushes like
a kid, but when he saw that he was with the farmer, he stopped as if in
terror, and stood still, uncertain what to do.
"Come, my Pierre, come, it's me!" cried the ploughman, riding toward him
and leaping down from his horse to take him in his arms: "and where's
"She's hiding there, because she's afraid of that bad black man, and so
"Oh! don't you be afraid; I am here--Marie! Marie! it's me!"
Marie came crawling out from the bushes, and as soon as she saw Germain,
whom the farmer was following close, she ran and threw herself into his
arms; and, clinging to him like a daughter to her father, she exclaimed:
"Ah! my good Germain, you will defend me; I'm not afraid with you."
Germain shuddered. He looked at Marie: she was pale, her clothes were
torn by the brambles through which she had run, seeking the thickest
underbrush, like a doe with the hunters on her track. But there was
neither despair nor shame on her face.
"Your master wants to speak to you," he said, still watching her
"My master?" she said proudly; "that man is not my master and never will
be!--You are my master, you, Germain. I want you to take me back with
you--will work for you for nothing!"
The farmer had ridden forward, feigning some impatience.
"Ah! little one," he said, "you forgot something which I have brought
"No, no, monsieur," replied little Marie, "I didn't forget anything, and
there's nothing I want to ask you for--"
"Hark ye a minute," said the farmer, "I have something to say to
you!--Come!--don't be afraid--just two words."
"You can say them out loud. I have no secrets with you."
"Come and get your money, at least."
"My money? You don't owe me anything, thank God!"
"I suspected as much," said Germain in an undertone; "but never mind,
Marie, listen to what he has to say to you--for, for my part, I am
curious to find out. You can tell me afterward: I have my reasons for
that. Go beside his horse--I won't lose sight of you."
Marie took three steps toward the farmer, who said to her, leaning
forward on the pommel of his saddle, and lowering his voice:
"Here's a bright louis-d'or for you, little one! you won't say anything,
understand? I'll say that I concluded you weren't strong enough for the
work on my farm.--And don't let anything more be said about it. I'll
come and see you again one of these days, and if you haven't said
anything, I'll give you something else. And then, if you're more
reasonable, you'll only have to say the word: I will take you home with
me, or else come and talk with you in the pasture at dusk. What present
shall I bring you?"
"There is my gift to you, monsieur!" replied little Marie aloud,
throwing his louis-d'or in his face with no gentle hand. "I thank you
very much, and I beg you to let me know beforehand when you are coming
our way: all the young men in my neighborhood will turn out to receive
you, because our people are very fond of bourgeois who try to make love
to poor girls! You'll see, they'll be on the lookout for you!"
"You're a liar and a silly babbler!" said the farmer in a rage, raising
his stick threateningly. "You'd like to make people believe what isn't
true, but you won't get any money out of me: I know your kind!"
Marie had recoiled in terror; but Germain darted to the farmer's horse's
head, seized the rein, and shook it vigorously:
"I understand now!" he said, "and I see plainly enough what the trouble
was. Dismount! my man! come down and let us have a talk!"
The farmer was by no means anxious to take a hand in the game: he
spurred his horse in order to free himself, and tried to strike the
ploughman's hands with his stick and make him relax his hold; but
Germain eluded the blow, and, taking him by the leg, unhorsed him and
brought him to the heather, where he knocked him down, although the
farmer was soon upon his feet again and defended himself sturdily.
[Illustration: Chapter XIV
_Marie had recoiled in terror; but Germain darted to the farmer's
horse's head, seized the rein, and shook it vigorously._]
"Coward!" said Germain, when he had him beneath him, "I could break
every bone in your body if I chose! But I don't like to harm anybody,
and besides, no punishment would mend your conscience. However, you
shan't stir from this spot until you have asked this girl's pardon on
The farmer, who was familiar with affairs of that sort, tried to turn it
off as a joke. He claimed that his offence was not so very serious, as
it consisted only in words, and said that he was willing to beg the
girl's pardon, on condition that he might kiss her and that they should
all go and drink a pint of wine at the nearest inn and part good
"You disgust me!" replied Germain, pressing his face against the ground,
"and I long to see the last of your ugly face. There, blush if you can,
and you had better take the road of the _affronteux_ when you come to
He picked up the farmer's holly staff, broke it across his knee to show
the strength of his wrists, and threw the pieces away with a
Then, taking his son's hand in one of his, and little Marie's in the
other, he walked away, trembling with indignation.
THE RETURN TO THE FARM
Within a quarter of an hour they had crossed the moors. They trotted
along the high-road, and Grise neighed at every familiar object.
Petit-Pierre told his father what had taken place so far as he had been
able to understand it.
"When we got there," he said, "_that man_ came and talked to _my Marie_
in the sheepfold, where we went first to see the fine sheep. I'd got up
into the crib to play, and _that man_ didn't see me. Then he said
good-day to my Marie and then he kissed her."
"You let him kiss you, Marie?" said Germain, trembling with anger.
"I thought it was a compliment, a custom of the place for new arrivals,
just as grandma, at your house, kisses the girls who take service with
her, to show that she adopts them and will be like a mother to them."
"And then," continued Petit-Pierre, who was very proud to have a story
to tell, "_that man_ said something naughty, something you told me not
to say and not to remember: so I forgot it right away. But if my papa
wants me to tell him what it was--"
"No, my Pierre, I don't want to hear it, and I don't want you to
remember it ever."
"Then I'll forget it again," said the child. "And then _that man_ acted
as if he was mad because Marie said she was going away. He told her he'd
give her all she wanted,--a hundred francs! And my Marie got mad, too.
Then he went at her, just like he was going to hurt her. I was afraid,
and I ran up to Marie and cried. Then _that man_ said like this: 'What's
that? where did that child come from? Put him out of here.' And he put
up his stick to beat me. But my Marie stopped him, and she said like
this: 'We will talk by and by, monsieur; now I must take this child to
Fourche, and then I'll come back again.' And as soon as he'd gone out of
the sheepfold, my Marie says to me like this: 'Let's run away, my
Pierre, we must go away right off, for that man's a bad man, and he
would only hurt us.'--Then we went behind the barns and crossed a little
field and went to Fourche to look for you. But you weren't there, and
they wouldn't let us wait for you. And then _that man_ came up behind
us on his black horse, and we ran still farther away, and then we went
and hid in the woods. Then he came, too, and we hid when we heard him
coming. And then, when he'd gone by, we began to run for ourselves so as
to go home; and then at last you came and found us; and that's all there
was. I didn't forget anything, did I, my Marie?"
"No, Pierre, and it's the truth. Now, Germain, you will bear witness for
me and tell everybody at home that it wasn't for lack of courage and
being willing to work that I couldn't stay over yonder."
"And I will ask you, Marie," said Germain, "to ask yourself the
question, whether, when it comes to defending a woman and punishing a
knave, a man of twenty-eight isn't too old? I'd like to know if Bastien,
or any other pretty boy who has the advantage of being ten years younger
than I am, wouldn't have been crushed by _that man_, as Petit-Pierre
calls him: what do you think about it?"
"I think, Germain, that you have done me a very great service, and that
I shall thank you for it all my life."
"Is that all?"
"My little father," said the child, "I didn't think to tell little Marie
what I promised you. I didn't have time, but I'll tell her at home, and
I'll tell grandma, too."
This promise on his child's part gave Germain abundant food for
reflection. The problem now was how to explain his position to his
family, and while setting forth his grievances against the widow Guerin,
to avoid telling them what other thoughts had predisposed him to be so
keen-sighted and so harsh in his judgment.
When one is happy and proud, the courage to make others accept one's
happiness seems easily within reach; but to be rebuffed in one direction
and blamed in another is not a very pleasant plight.
Luckily, Pierre was asleep when they reached the farm, and Germain put
him down on his bed without waking him. Then he entered upon such
explanations as he was able to give. Pere Maurice, sitting upon his
three-legged stool in the doorway, listened gravely to him, and,
although he was ill pleased with the result of the expedition, when
Germain, after describing the widow's system of coquetry, asked his
father in-law if he had time to go and pay court to her fifty-two
Sundays in the year with the chance of being dismissed at the end of the
year, the old man replied, nodding his head in token of assent: "You are
not wrong, Germain; that couldn't be." And again, when Germain told how
he had been compelled to bring little Marie home again without loss of
time to save her from the insults, perhaps from the violence, of an
unworthy master, Pere Maurice again nodded assent, saying: "You are not
wrong, Germain; that's as it should be."
When Germain had finished his story and given all his reasons, his
father-in-law and mother-in-law simultaneously uttered a heavy sigh of
resignation as they exchanged glances.
Then the head of the family rose, saying: "Well! God's will be done!
affection isn't made to order!"
"Come to supper, Germain," said the mother-in-law. "It's a pity that
couldn't be arranged better; however, it wasn't God's will, it seems. We
must look somewhere else."
"Yes," the old man added, "as my wife says, we must look somewhere
There was no further sound in the house, and when Petit-Pierre rose the
next morning with the larks, at dawn, being no longer excited by the
extraordinary events of the last two days, he relapsed into the normal
apathy of little peasants of his age, forgot all that had filled his
little head, and thought of nothing but playing with his brothers, and
_being a man_ with the horses and oxen.
Germain tried to forget, too, by plunging into his work again; but he
became so melancholy and so absent-minded that everybody noticed it. He
did not speak to little Marie, he did not even look at her; and yet, if
any one had asked him in which pasture she was, or in what direction she
had gone, there was not an hour in the day when he could not have told
if he had chosen to reply. He had not dared ask his people to take her
on at the farm during the winter, and yet he was well aware that she
must be suffering from poverty. But she was not suffering, and Mere
Guillette could never understand why her little store of wood never grew
less, and how her shed was always filled in the morning when she had
left it almost empty the night before. It was the same with the wheat
and potatoes. Some one came through the window in the loft, and emptied
a bag on the floor without waking anybody or leaving any tracks. The old
woman was anxious and rejoiced at the same time; she bade her daughter
not mention the matter, saying that if people knew what was happening in
her house they would take her for a witch. She really believed that the
devil had a hand in it, but she was by no means eager to fall out with
him by calling upon the cure to exorcise him from her house; she said to
herself that it would be time to do that when Satan came and demanded
her soul in exchange for his benefactions.
Little Marie had a clearer idea of the truth, but she dared not speak to
Germain for fear that he would recur to his idea of marriage, and she
pretended when with him to notice nothing.
One day, Mere Maurice, being alone in the orchard with Germain, said to
him affectionately: "My poor son, I don't think you're well. You don't
eat as much as usual, you never laugh, and you talk less and less. Has
any one in the house, have we ourselves wounded you, without meaning to
do it or knowing that we had done it?"
"No, mother," replied Germain, "you have always been as kind to me as
the mother who brought me into the world, and I should be an ungrateful
fellow if I complained of you, or your husband, or any one in the
"In that case, my child, it must be that your grief for your wife's
death has come back. Instead of lessening with time, your loneliness
grows worse, and you absolutely must do what your father-in-law very
wisely advised, you must marry again."
"Yes, mother, that would be my idea, too; but the women you advised me
to seek don't suit me. When I see them, instead of forgetting Catherine,
I think of her all the more."
"The trouble apparently is, Germain, that we haven't succeeded in
divining your taste. So you must help us by telling us the truth.
Doubtless there's a woman somewhere who was made for you, for the good
Lord doesn't make anybody without putting by his happiness for him in
somebody else. So if you know where to go for the wife you need, go and
get her; and whether she's pretty or ugly, young or old, rich or poor,
we have made up our minds, my old man and I, to give our consent; for
we're tired of seeing you so sad, and we can't live at peace if you are
"You are as good as the good Lord, mother, and so is father," replied
Germain; "but your compassion can't cure my trouble: the girl I would
like won't have me."
"Is it because she's too young? It's unwise for you to put your thoughts
on a young girl."
"Well, yes, mother, I am foolish enough to have become attached to a
young girl, and I blame myself for it. I do all I can not to think of
her; but whether I am at work or resting, whether I am at Mass or in my
bed, with my children or with you, I think of her all the time, and
can't think of anything else."
"Why, it's as if there'd been a spell cast on you, Germain, isn't it?
There's only one cure for it, and that is to make the girl change her
mind and listen to you. So I must take a hand in it, and see if it can
be done. You tell me where she lives and what her name is."
"Alas! my dear mother, I don't dare," said Germain, "for you'll laugh at
"No, I won't laugh at you, Germain, because you're in trouble, and I
don't want to make it any worse for you. Can it be Fanchette?"
"No, mother, not her."
"Tell me, then, for I won't stop, if I have to name all the girls in the
Germain hung his head, and could not make up his mind to reply.
"Well," said Mere Maurice, "I leave you in peace for to-day, Germain;
perhaps to-morrow you will feel more like trusting me, or your
sister-in-law will show more skill in questioning you."
And she picked up her basket to go and stretch her linen on the bushes.
Germain acted like children who make up their minds when they see that
you have ceased to pay any attention to them. He followed his
mother-in-law, and at last gave her the name in fear and trembling--_La
Guillette's little Marie_.
Great was Mere Maurice's surprise: she was the last one of whom she
would have thought. But she had the delicacy not to cry out at it, and
to make her comments mentally. Then, seeing that her silence was
oppressive to Germain, she held out her basket to him, saying: "Well, is
that any reason why you shouldn't help me in my work? Carry this load,
and come and talk with me. Have you reflected, Germain? have you made up
"Alas! my dear mother, that's not the way you must talk: my mind would
be made up if I could succeed; but as I shouldn't be listened to, I have
made up my mind simply to cure myself if I can."
"And if you can't?"
"Everything in its time, Mere Maurice: when the horse is overloaded, he
falls; and when the ox has nothing to eat, he dies."
"That is to say that you will die if you don't succeed, eh? God forbid,
Germain! I don't like to hear a man like you say such things as that,
because when he says them he thinks them. You're a very brave man, and
weakness is a dangerous thing in strong men. Come, take hope. I can't
imagine how a poor girl, who is much honored by having you want her, can
"It's the truth, though, she does refuse me."
"What reasons does she give you?"
"That you have always been kind to her, that her family owes a great
deal to yours, and that she doesn't want to displease you by turning me
away from a wealthy marriage."
"If she says that, she shows good feeling, and it's very honest on her
part. But when she tells you that, Germain, she doesn't cure you, for
she tells you she loves you, I don't doubt, and that she'd marry you if
we were willing."
"That's the worst of it! she says that her heart isn't drawn toward me."
"If she says what she doesn't mean, the better to keep you away from
her, she's a child who deserves to have us love her and to have us
overlook her youth because of her great common-sense."
"Yes," said Germain, struck with a hope he had not before conceived;
"it would be very good and very _comme il faut_ on her part! but if
she's so sensible, I am very much afraid it's because she doesn't like
"Germain," said Mere Maurice, "you must promise to keep quiet the whole
week and not worry, but eat and sleep, and be gay as you used to be.
I'll speak to my old man, and if I bring him round, then you can find
out the girl's real feeling with regard to you."
Germain promised, and the week passed without Pere Maurice saying a word
to him in private or giving any sign that he suspected anything. The
ploughman tried hard to seem tranquil, but he was paler and more
perturbed than ever.
At last, on Sunday morning as they came out from Mass, his mother-in-law
asked him what he had obtained from his sweetheart since their interview
in the orchard.
"Why, nothing at all," he replied. "I haven't spoken to her."
"How do you expect to persuade her, pray, if you don't speak to her?"
"I have never spoken to her but once," said Germain. "That was when we
went to Fourche together; and since then I haven't said a single word to
her. Her refusal hurt me so, that I prefer not to hear her tell me again
that she doesn't love me."
"Well, my son, you must speak to her now; your father-in-law authorizes
you to do it. Come, make up your mind! I tell you to do it, and, if
necessary, I insist on it; for you can't remain in this state of doubt."
Germain obeyed. He went to Mere Guillette's, with downcast eyes and an
air of profound depression. Little Marie was alone in the
chimney-corner, musing so deeply that she did not hear Germain come in.
When she saw him before her, she leaped from her chair in surprise and
her face flushed.
"Little Marie," he said, sitting beside her, "I have pained you and
wearied you, I know; but _the man and the woman at our house_"--so
designating the heads of the family in accordance with custom--"want me
to speak to you and ask you to marry me. You won't be willing to do it,
I expect that."
"Germain," replied little Marie, "have you made up your mind that you
"That offends you, I know, but it isn't my fault; if you could change
your mind, I should be too happy, and I suppose I don't deserve to have
it so. Come, look at me, Marie, am I so very frightful?"
"No, Germain," she replied, with a smile, "you're better looking than I
"Don't laugh at me; look at me indulgently; I haven't lost a hair or a
tooth yet. My eyes tell you that I love you. Look into my eyes, it's
written there, and every girl knows how to read that writing."
Marie looked into Germain's eyes with an air of playful assurance; then
she suddenly turned her head away and began to tremble.
"Ah! _mon Dieu!_ I frighten you," said Germain; "you look at me as if I
were the farmer of Ormeaux. Don't be afraid of me, I beg of you, that
hurts me too much. I won't say bad words to you, I won't kiss you
against your will, and when you want me to go away, you have only to
show me the door. Tell me, must I go out so that you can stop
Marie held out her hand to the ploughman, but without turning her head,
which was bent toward the fire-place, and without speaking.
"I understand," said Germain; "you pity me, for you are kind-hearted;
you are sorry to make me unhappy; but still you can't love me, can you?"
"Why do you say such things to me, Germain?" little Marie replied at
last, "do you want to make me cry?"
"Poor little girl, you have a kind heart, I know; but you don't love me,
and you hide your face from me because you're afraid to let me see your
displeasure and your repugnance. And for my part, I don't dare do so
much as press your hand! In the woods, when my son was asleep, and you
were asleep too, I came near kissing you softly. But I should have died
of shame rather than ask you for a kiss, and I suffered as much that
night as a man roasting over a slow fire. Since then, I've dreamed of
you every night. Ah! how I have kissed you, Marie! But you slept without
dreaming all the time. And now do you know what I think? that if you
should turn and look at me with such eyes as I have for you, and if you
should put your face to mine, I believe I should fall dead with joy. And
as for you, you are thinking that if such a thing should happen to you,
you would die of anger and shame!"
Germain talked as if he were dreaming, and did not know what he said.
Little Marie was still trembling; but as he was trembling even more than
she, he did not notice it. Suddenly she turned; she was all in tears,
and looked at him with a reproachful expression.
The poor ploughman thought that that was the last stroke, and rose to
go, without awaiting his sentence, but the girl detained him by throwing
her arms about him, and hid her face against his breast.
"Ah! Germain," she said, sobbing, "haven't you guessed that I love you?"
Germain would have gone mad, had not his son, who was looking for him
and who entered the cottage galloping on a stick, with his little sister
_en croupe_, lashing the imaginary steed with a willow switch, recalled
him to himself. He lifted him up, and said, as he put him in his
"You have made more than one person happy by loving me!"
THE COUNTRY WEDDING
Here ends the story of Germain's courtship, as he told it to me himself,
cunning ploughman that he is! I ask your pardon, dear reader, for having
been unable to translate it better; for the old-fashioned, artless
language of the peasants of the district that _I sing_--as they used to
say--really has to be translated. Those people speak too much French for
us, and the development of the language since Rabelais and Montaigne has
deprived us of much of the old wealth. It is so with all progress, and
we must make up our minds to it. But it is pleasant still to hear those
picturesque idioms in general use on the old soil of the centre of
France; especially as they are the genuine expressions of the mockingly
tranquil and pleasantly loquacious character of the people who use them.
Touraine has preserved a considerable number of precious patriarchal
locutions. But Touraine has progressed rapidly in civilization during
and since the Renaissance. It is covered with chateaux, roads,
activity, and foreigners. Berry has remained stationary, and I think
that, next to Bretagne and some provinces in the extreme south of
France, it is the most _conservative_ province to be found at the
present moment. Certain customs are so strange, so curious, that I hope
to be able to entertain you a moment longer, dear reader, if you will
permit me to describe in detail a country wedding, Germain's for
instance, which I had the pleasure of attending a few years ago.
For everything passes away, alas! In the short time that I have lived,
there has been more change in the ideas and customs of my village than
there was for centuries before the Revolution. Half of the Celtic,
pagan, or Middle-Age ceremonials that I saw in full vigor in my
childhood, have already been done away with. Another year or two,
perhaps, and the railroads will run their levels through our deep
valleys, carrying away, with the swiftness of lightning, our ancient
traditions and our wonderful legends.
It was in winter, not far from the Carnival, the time of year when it is
considered becoming and proper, among us, to be married. In the summer,
we hardly have time, and the work on a farm cannot be postponed three
days, to say nothing of the extra days required for the more or less
laborious digestion attending the moral and physical intoxication that
follows such a festivity.--I was sitting under the huge mantel-piece of
an old-fashioned kitchen fire-place, when pistol-shots, the howling of
dogs, and the shrill notes of the bagpipe announced the approach of the
fiances. Soon Pere and Mere Maurice, Germain, and little Marie, followed
by Jacques and his wife, the nearest relations of the bride and groom,
and their godfathers and godmothers, entered the court-yard.
Little Marie, not having as yet received the wedding-gifts, called
_livrees_, was dressed in the best that her modest wardrobe afforded: a
dress of dark-gray cloth, a white fichu with large bright-colored
flowers, an apron of the color called _incarnat_, an Indian red then
much in vogue but despised to-day, a cap of snow-white muslin and of the
shape, fortunately preserved, which recalls the head-dress of Anne
Boleyn and Agnes Sorel. She was fresh and smiling, and not at all proud,
although she had good reason to be. Germain was beside her, grave and
deeply moved, like the youthful Jacob saluting Rachel at Laban's well.
Any other girl would have assumed an air of importance and a triumphant
bearing; for in all ranks of life it counts for something to be married
for one's _beaux yeux_. But the girl's eyes were moist and beaming with
love; you could see that she was deeply smitten, and that she had no
time to think about the opinions of other people. She had not lost her
little determined manner; but she was all sincerity and good nature;
there was nothing impertinent in her success, nothing personal in her
consciousness of her strength. I never saw such a sweet fiancee as she
when she quickly answered some of her young friends who asked her if she
was content: "Bless me! indeed I am! I don't complain of the good Lord."
Pere Maurice was the spokesman; he had come to offer the customary
compliments and invitations. He began by fastening a laurel branch
adorned with ribbons to the mantel-piece; that is called the _exploit_,
that is to say, the invitation; then he gave to each of the guests a
little cross made of a bit of blue ribbon crossed by another bit of pink
ribbon; the pink for the bride, the blue for the groom; and the guests
were expected to keep that token to wear on the wedding-day, the women
in their caps, the men in their button-holes. It was the ticket of
Then Pere Maurice delivered his speech. He invited the master of the
house and all _his company_, that is to say, all his children, all his
relations, all his friends, all his servants, to the marriage-ceremony,
_to the feast, to the sports, to the dancing, and to everything that
comes after_. He did not fail to say:--I come _to do you the honor_ to
_invite_ you. A very proper locution, although it seems a misuse of
words to us, as it expresses the idea of rendering honor to those who
are deemed worthy thereof.
Despite the general invitation carried thus from house to house
throughout the parish, good-breeding, which is extremely conservative
among the peasantry, requires that only two persons in each family
should take advantage of it,--one of the heads of the family to
represent the household, one of their children to represent the other
The invitations being delivered, the fiances and their relations went to
the farm and dined together.
Little Marie tended her three sheep on the common land, and Germain
turned up the ground as if there were nothing in the air.
On the day before that fixed for the marriage, about two o'clock in the
afternoon, the musicians arrived, that is to say, the bagpipers and
viol-players, with their instruments decorated with long floating
ribbons, and playing a march written for the occasion, in a measure
somewhat slow for the feet of any but natives, but perfectly adapted to
the nature of the heavy ground and the hilly roads of that region.
Pistol-shots, fired by youths and children, announced the beginning of
the ceremony. The guests assembled one by one and danced on the
greensward in front of the house, for practice. When night had come,
they began to make strange preparations: they separated into two
parties, and when it was quite dark, they proceeded to the ceremony of
That ceremony was performed at the home of the fiancee, La Guillette's
cabin. La Guillette took with her her daughter, a dozen or more young
and pretty shepherdesses, her daughter's friends or relations, two or
three respectable matrons, neighbors with well-oiled tongues, quick at
retort, and unyielding observers of the ancient customs. Then she
selected a dozen sturdy champions, her relations and friends; and,
lastly, the old _hemp-beater_ of the parish, a fine and fluent talker,
if ever there was one.
The role played in Bretagne by the _bazvalan_, or village tailor, is
assumed in our country districts by the hemp-beater or the wool-carder,
the two professions being often united in a single person. He attends
all solemnities, sad or gay, because he is essentially erudite and a
fine speaker, and on such occasions it is always his part to act as
spokesman in order that certain formalities that have been observed from
time immemorial may be worthily performed. The wandering trades which
take men into the bosoms of other families and do not permit them to
concentrate their attention upon their own, are well calculated to make
them loquacious, entertaining, good talkers, and good singers.
The hemp-beater is peculiarly sceptical. He and another rustic
functionary, of whom we shall speak anon, the grave-digger, are always
the strong-minded men of the neighborhood. They have talked so much
about ghosts, and are so familiar with all the tricks of which those
mischievous spirits are capable, that they fear them hardly at all.
Night is the time when all three, hemp-beaters, grave-diggers, and
ghosts, principally exercise their callings. At night, too, the
hemp-beater tells his harrowing tales. May I be pardoned for a slight
When the hemp has reached the proper point, that is to say, when it has
been sufficiently soaked in running water and half dried on the bank,
it is carried to the yards of the different houses; there they stand it
up in little sheaves, which, with their stalks spread apart at the
bottom and their heads tied together in balls, greatly resemble, in the
dark, a long procession of little white phantoms, planted on their slim
legs and walking noiselessly along the walls.
At the end of September, when the nights are still warm, they begin the
process of beating, by the pale moonlight. During the day, the hemp has
been heated in the oven; it is taken out at night to be beaten hot. For
that purpose, they use a sort of wooden horse, surmounted by a wooden
lever, which, falling upon the grooves, breaks the plant without cutting
it. Then it is that you hear at night, in the country, the sharp,
clean-cut sound of three blows struck in rapid succession. Then there is
silence for a moment; that means that the arm is moving the handful of
hemp, in order to break it in another place. And the three blows are
repeated; it is the other arm acting on the lever, and so it goes on
until the moon is dimmed by the first rays of dawn. As this work is done
only a few days in the year, the dogs do not become accustomed to it,
and howl plaintively at every point of the compass.
It is the time for unusual and mysterious noises in the country. The
migrating cranes fly southward at such a height that the eye can hardly
distinguish them in broad daylight. At night, you can only hear them;
and their hoarse, complaining voices, lost among the clouds, seem like
the salutation and the farewell of souls in torment, striving to find
the road to heaven and compelled by an irresistible fatality to hover
about the abodes of men, not far from earth; for these migratory birds
exhibit strange uncertainty and mysterious anxiety in their aerial
wanderings. It sometimes happens that they lose the wind, when fitful
breezes struggle for the mastery or succeed one another in the upper
regions. Thereupon, when one of those reverses happens during the day,
we see the leader of the line soar at random through the air, then turn
sharply about, fly back, and take his place at the rear of the
triangular phalanx, while a skilful manoeuvre on the part of his
companions soon brings them into line behind him. Often, after vain
efforts, the exhausted leader abandons the command of the caravan;
another comes forward, takes his turn at the task, and gives place to a
third, who finds the current and leads the host forward in triumph. But
what shrieks, what reproaches, what remonstrances, what fierce
maledictions or anxious questions are exchanged by those winged pilgrims
in an unfamiliar tongue!
In the resonant darkness you hear the dismal uproar circling above the
houses sometimes for a long while; and as you can see nothing, you feel,
in spite of yourself, a sort of dread and a sympathetic uneasiness until
the sobbing flock has passed out of hearing in space.
There are other sounds that are peculiar to that time of year, and are
heard principally in the orchards. The fruit is not yet gathered, and a
thousand unaccustomed snappings and crackings make the trees resemble
animate beings. A branch creaks as it bends under a weight that has
suddenly reached the last stage of development; or an apple detaches
itself and falls at your feet with a dull thud on the damp ground. Then
you hear a creature whom you cannot see, brushing against the branches
and bushes as he runs away; it is the peasant's dog, the restless,
inquisitive prowler, impudent and cowardly as well, who insinuates
himself everywhere, never sleeps, is always hunting for nobody knows
what, watches you from his hiding-place in the bushes and runs away at
the noise made by a falling apple, thinking that you are throwing a
stone at him.
On such nights as those--gray, cloudy nights--the hemp-beater narrates
his strange adventures with will-o'-the-wisps and white hares, souls in
torment and witches transformed into wolves, the witches' dance at the
cross-roads and prophetic night-owls in the grave-yard. I remember
passing the early hours of the night thus around the moving flails,
whose pitiless blow, interrupting the beater's tale at the most exciting
point, caused a cold shiver to run through our veins. Often, too, the
goodman went on talking as he worked; and four or five words would be
lost: awful words, of course, which we dared not ask him to repeat, and
the omission of which imparted a more awe-inspiring mystery to the
mysteries, sufficiently harrowing before, of his narrative. In vain did
the servants warn us that it was very late to remain out-of-doors, and
that the hour for slumber had long since struck for us; they themselves
were dying with longing to hear more. And with what terror did we
afterward walk through the hamlet on our homeward way! how deep the
church porch seemed, and how dense and black the shadow of the old
trees! As for the grave-yard, that we did not see; we closed our eyes as
we passed it.
But the hemp-beater does not devote himself exclusively to frightening
his hearers any more than the sacristan does; he likes to make them
laugh, he is jocose and sentimental at need, when love and marriage are
to be sung; he it is who collects and retains in his memory the most
ancient ballads and transmits them to posterity. He it is, therefore,
who, at wedding-festivals, is entrusted with the character which we are
to see him enact at the presentation of the _livrees_ to little Marie.
When everybody was assembled in the house, the doors and windows were
closed and fastened with the greatest care; they even barricaded the
loop-hole in the attic; they placed boards, trestles, stumps, and tables
across all the issues as if they were preparing to sustain a siege; and
there was the solemn silence of suspense in that fortified interior
until they heard in the distance singing and laughing, and the notes of
the rustic instruments. It was the bridegroom's contingent, Germain at
the head, accompanied by his stoutest comrades, by his relations,
friends, and servants and the grave-digger,--a substantial, joyous
But, as they approached the house, they slackened their pace, took
counsel together, and became silent. The maidens, shut up in the house,
had arranged little cracks at the windows, through which they watched
them march up and form in battle-array. A fine, cold rain was falling,
and added to the interest of the occasion, while a huge fire was
crackling on the hearth inside. Marie would have liked to abridge the
inevitable tedious length of this formal siege; she did not like to see
her lover catching cold, but she had no voice in the council under the
circumstances, and, indeed, she was expected to join, ostensibly, in the
mischievous cruelty of her companions.
When the two camps were thus confronted, a discharge of fire-arms
without created great excitement among all the dogs in the neighborhood.
Those of the household rushed to the door barking vociferously, thinking
that a real attack was in progress, and the small children, whom their
mothers tried in vain to reassure, began to tremble and cry. The whole
scene was so well played that a stranger might well have been deceived
by it and have considered the advisability of preparing to defend
himself against a band of brigands.
Thereupon, the grave-digger, the bridegroom's bard and orator, took his
place in front of the door, and, in a lugubrious voice, began the
following dialogue with the hemp-beater, who was stationed at the small
round window above the same door:
Alas! my good people, my dear parishioners, for the love of God open the
Who are you, pray, and why do you presume to call us your dear
parishioners? We do not know you.
We are honest folk in sore distress. Be not afraid of us, my friends!
receive us hospitably. The rain freezes as it falls, our poor feet are
frozen, and we have come such a long distance that our shoes are split.
If your shoes are split, you can look on the ground; you will surely
find osier withes to make _arcelets_ [little strips of iron in the shape
of bows, with which shoes (wooden) were mended].
Osier _arcelets_ are not very strong. You are making sport of us, good
people, and you would do better to open the door to us. We can see the
gleam of a noble blaze within your house; doubtless the spit is in
place, and your hearts and your stomachs are rejoicing together. Open,
then, to poor pilgrims, who will die at your door if you do not have
mercy on them.
Aha! you are pilgrims? you did not tell us that. From what pilgrimage
are you returning, by your leave?
We will tell you that when you have opened the door, for we come from so
far away that you would not believe it.
Open the door to you? indeed! we should not dare trust you. Let us see:
are you from Saint-Sylvain de Pouligny?
We have been to Saint-Sylvain de Pouligny, but we have been farther than
Then you have been as far as Sainte-Solange?
We have been to Sainte-Solange, for sure; but we have been farther
You lie; you have never been as far as Sainte-Solange.
We have been farther, for we have just returned from Saint-Jacques de
What foolish tale are you telling us? We don't know that parish. We see
plainly enough that you are bad men, brigands, _nobodies_, liars. Go
somewhere else and sing your silly songs; we are on our guard, and you
won't get in here.
Alas! my dear man, have pity on us! We are not pilgrims, as you have
rightly guessed; but we are unfortunate poachers pursued by the keepers.
The gendarmes are after us, too, and, if you don't let us hide in your
hay-loft, we shall be caught and taken to prison.
But what proof have we this time that you are what you say? for here is
one falsehood already that you could not follow up.
If you will open the door, we will show you a fine piece of game we have
Show it now, for we are suspicious.
Well, open a door or a window, so that we can pass in the creature.
Oh! nay, nay! not such fools! I'm looking at you through a little hole,
and I see neither hunters nor game.
At that point, a drover's boy, a thick-set youth of herculean strength,
came forth from the group in which he had been standing unnoticed, and
held up toward the window a goose all plucked and impaled on a stout
iron spit, decorated with bunches of straw and ribbons.
"Hoity-toity!" cried the hemp-beater, after he had cautiously put out an
arm to feel the bird; "that's not a quail or a partridge, a hare or a
rabbit; it looks like a goose or a turkey. Upon my word, you are noble
hunters! and that game did not make you ride very fast. Go elsewhere,
my knaves! all your falsehoods are detected, and you may as well go home
and cook your supper. You won't eat ours."
Alas! _mon Dieu_! where shall we go to have our game cooked? it's very
little among so many of us; and, besides, we have no fire nor place to
go to. At this time of night, every door is closed, everybody has gone
to bed; you are the only ones who are having a wedding-feast in your
house, and you must be very hardhearted to leave us to freeze outside.
Once more, good people, let us in; we won't cause you any expense. You
see we bring our own food; only a little space at your fireside, a
little fire to cook it, and we will go hence satisfied.
Do you think that we have any too much room, and that wood costs
We have a little bundle of straw to make a fire with, we will be
satisfied with it; only give us leave to place the spit across your
We will not do it; you arouse disgust, not pity, in us. It's my opinion
that you are drank, that you need nothing, and that you simply want to
get into our house to steal our fire and our daughters.
As you refuse to listen to any good reason, we propose to force our way
into your house.
Try it, if you choose. We are so well protected that we need not fear
you. You are insolent knaves, too, and we won't answer you any more.
Thereupon, the hemp-beater closed the window-shutter with a great noise,
and went down to the lower room by a ladder. Then he took the bride by
the hand, the young people of both sexes joined them, and they all began
to dance and utter joyous exclamations, while the matrons sang in
piercing tones and indulged in loud peals of laughter in token of their
scorn and defiance of those who were attempting an assault without.
The besiegers, on their side, raged furiously together: they discharged
their pistols against the doors, made the dogs growl, pounded on the
walls, rattled the shutters, and uttered terror-inspiring yells; in
short, there was such an uproar that you could not hear yourself talk,
such a dust and smoke that you could not see yourself.
The attack was a mere pretence, however: the moment had not come to
violate the laws of etiquette. If they could succeed, by prowling about
the house, in finding an unguarded passage, any opening whatsoever, they
could try to gain an entrance by surprise, and then, if the bearer of
the spit succeeded in placing his bird in front of the fire, that
constituted a taking possession of the hearth-stone, the comedy was at
an end, and the bridegroom was victor.
But the entrances to the house were not so numerous that they were
likely to have neglected the usual precautions, and no one would have
assumed the right to employ violence before the moment fixed for the
When they were weary of jumping about and shouting, the hemp-beater
meditated a capitulation. He went back to his window, opened it
cautiously, and hailed the discomfited besiegers with a roar of
"Well, my boys," he said, "you're pretty sheepish, aren't you? You
thought that nothing could be easier than to break in here, and you
have discovered that our defences are strong. But we are beginning to
have pity on you, if you choose to submit and accept our conditions."
Speak, my good friends; tell us what we must do to be admitted to your
You must sing, my friends, but sing some song that we don't know, and
that we can't answer with a better one.
"Never you fear!" replied the grave-digger, and he sang in a powerful
"'_Tis six months since the spring-time_,"
"_When I walked upon the springing grass_," replied the hemp-beater, in
a somewhat hoarse but awe-inspiring voice. "Are you laughing at us, my
poor fellows, that you sing us such old trash? you see that we stop you
at the first word."
"_It was a prince's daughter_--"
"_And she would married be_" replied the hemp-beater. "Go on, go on to
another! we know that a little too well."
What do you say to this:
"_When from Nantes I was returning_--"
"_I was weary, do you know! oh! so weary_." That's a song of my
grandmother's day. Give us another one.
"_The other day as I was walking_--"
"_Along by yonder charming wood_!" That's a silly one! Our grandchildren
wouldn't take the trouble to answer you! What! are those all you know?
Oh! we'll sing you so many of them, that you will end by stopping short.
Fully an hour was passed in this contest. As the two combatants were the
most learned men in the province in the matter of ballads, and as their
repertory seemed inexhaustible, it might well have lasted all night,
especially as the hemp-beater seemed to take malicious pleasure in
allowing his opponent to sing certain laments in ten, twenty, or thirty
stanzas, pretending by his silence to admit that he was defeated.
Thereupon, there was triumph in the bridegroom's camp, they sang in
chorus at the tops of their voices, and every one believed that the
adverse party would make default; but when the final stanza was half
finished, the old hemp-beater's harsh, hoarse voice would bellow out the
last words; whereupon he would shout: "You don't need to tire yourselves
out by singing such long ones, my children! We have them at our fingers'
Once or twice, however, the hemp-beater made a wry face, drew his
eyebrows together, and turned with a disappointed air toward the
observant matrons. The grave-digger was singing something so old that
his adversary had forgotten it, or perhaps had never known it; but the
good dames instantly sang the victorious refrain through their noses, in
tones as shrill as those of the sea-gull; and the grave-digger, summoned
to surrender, passed to something else.
It would have been too long to wait until one side or the other won the
victory. The bride's party announced that they would show mercy on
condition that the others should offer her a gift worthy of her.
Thereupon, the song of the _livrees_ began, to an air as solemn as a
The men outside sang in unison:
"Ouvrez la porte, ouvrez,
Marie, ma mignonne,
_J'ons_ de beaux cadeaux a vous presenter.
Helas! ma mie, laissez-nous entrer."
To which the women replied from the interior, in falsetto, in doleful
"Mon pere est en chagrin, ma mere en grand' tristesse,
Et moi je suis fille de trop grand' merci
Pour ouvrir ma porte a _cette heure ici_."
The men repeated the first stanza down to the fourth line, which they
"J'ons un beau mouchoir a vous presenter."
But the women replied, in the name of the bride, in the same words as
Through twenty stanzas, at least, the men enumerated all the gifts in
the _livree_, always mentioning a new article in the last verse: a
beautiful _devanteau_,--apron,--lovely ribbons, a cloth dress, lace, a
gold cross, even to _a hundred pins_ to complete the bride's modest
outfit. The matrons invariably refused; but at last the young men
decided to mention _a handsome husband to offer_, and they replied by
addressing the bride, and singing to her with the men:
"Ouvrez la porte, ouvrez,
Marie, ma mignonne,
C'est un beau man qui vient vous chercher.
Allons, ma mie, laissons-les entrer."
The hemp-beater at once drew the wooden latch by which the door was
fastened on the inside; at that time, it was still the only lock known
in most of the houses in our village. The bridegroom's party invaded the
bride's dwelling, but not without a combat; for the boys stationed
inside the house, and even the old hemp-beater and the old women, made
it their duty to defend the hearthstone. The bearer of the spit,
supported by his adherents, was bound to succeed in bestowing his bird
in the fire-place. It was a genuine battle, although they abstained from
striking one another, and there was no anger in it. But they pushed and
squeezed one another with such violence, and there was so much
self-esteem at stake in that conflict of muscular strength, that the
results might be more serious than they seemed to be amid the laughter
and the singing. The poor old hemp-beater, who fought like a lion, was
pressed against the wall and squeezed until he lost his breath. More
than one champion was floored and unintentionally trodden under foot,
more than one hand that grasped at the spit was covered with blood.
Those sports are dangerous, and the accidents were so serious in later
years that the peasants determined to allow the ceremony of the
_livrees_ to fall into desuetude. I believe that we saw the last of it
at Francoise Meillant's wedding, and still it was only a mock-battle.
The contest was animated enough at Germain's wedding. It was a point of
honor on one side and the other to attack and to defend La Guillette's
fireside. The huge spit was twisted like a screw in the powerful hands
that struggled for possession of it. A pistol-shot set fire to a small
store of hemp in skeins that lay on a shelf suspended from the ceiling.
That incident created a diversion, and while some hastened to smother
the germ of a conflagration, the grave-digger, who had climbed to the
attic unperceived, came down the chimney and seized the spit, just as
the drover, who was defending it near the hearth, raised it above his
head to prevent its being snatched from him. Some time before the
assault, the matrons had taken care to put out the fire, fearing that
some one might fall in and be burned while they were struggling close
beside it. The facetious grave-digger, in concert with the drover,
possessed himself of the trophy without difficulty, therefore, and threw
it across the fire-dogs. It was done! No one was allowed to touch it
after that. He leaped into the room, and lighted a bit of straw which
surrounded the spit, to make a pretence of cooking the goose, which was
torn to pieces and its limbs strewn over the floor.
Thereupon, there was much laughter and burlesque discussion. Every one
showed the bruises he had received, and as it was often the hand of a
friend that had dealt the blow, there was no complaining or quarrelling.
The hemp-beater, who was half flattened out, rubbed his sides, saying
that he cared very little for that, but that he did protest against the
stratagem of his good friend the grave-digger, and that, if he had not
been half-dead, the hearth would not have been conquered so easily. The
matrons swept the floor, and order was restored. The table was covered
with jugs of new wine. When they had drank together and recovered their
breath, the bridegroom was led into the centre of the room, and, being
armed with a staff, was obliged to submit to a new test.
During the contest, the bride had been concealed with three of her
friends by her mother, her godmother, and aunts, who had seated the four
girls on a bench in the farthest corner of the room, and covered them
over with a great white sheet. They had selected three of Marie's
friends who were of the same height as she, and wore caps of exactly the
same height, so that, as the sheet covered their heads and descended to
their feet, it was impossible to distinguish them from each other.
The bridegroom was not allowed to touch them, except with the end of his
wand, and only to point out the one whom he judged to be his wife. They
gave him time to examine them, but only with his eyes, and the matrons,
who stood by his side, watched closely to see that there was no
cheating. If he made a mistake, he could not dance with his betrothed
during the evening, but only with her whom he had chosen by mistake.
Germain, finding himself in the presence of those phantoms enveloped in
the same winding-sheet, was terribly afraid of making a mistake; and, as
a matter of fact, that had happened to many others, for the precautions
were always taken with scrupulous care. His heart beat fast. Little
Marie tried to breathe hard and make the sheet move, but her mischievous
rivals did the same, pushed out the cloth with their fingers, and there
were as many mysterious signs as there were girls under the veil. The
square caps kept the veil so perfectly level that it was impossible to
distinguish the shape of a head beneath its folds.
Germain, after ten minutes of hesitation, closed his eyes, commended his
soul to God, and stuck his staff out at random. He touched little
Marie's forehead, and she threw the sheet aside with a cry of triumph.
He obtained leave then to kiss her, and, taking her in his strong arms,
he carried her to the middle of the room, and with her opened the ball,
which lasted until two o'clock in the morning.
Then they separated to meet again at eight o'clock. As there was a
considerable number of young people from the neighboring towns, and as
there were not beds enough for everybody, each invited guest among the
women of the village shared her bed with two or three friends, while the
young men lay pell-mell on the hay in the loft at the farm. You can
imagine that there was not much sleep there, for they thought of nothing
but teasing, and playing tricks on one another and telling amusing
stories. At all weddings, there are three sleepless nights, which no one
At the hour appointed for setting out, after they had eaten their soup
_au lait_ seasoned with a strong dose of pepper to give them an
appetite, for the wedding-banquet bade fair to be abundant, they
assembled in the farm-yard. Our parish church being suppressed, they
were obliged to go half a league away to receive the nuptial
benediction. It was a lovely, cool day; but, as the roads were very bad,
every man had provided himself with a horse, and took _en croupe_ a
female companion, young or old. Germain was mounted upon Grise, who,
being well groomed, newly shod, and decked out in ribbons, pranced and
capered and breathed fire through her nostrils. He went to the cabin for
his fiancee, accompanied by his brother-in-law Jacques, who was mounted
on old Grise and took Mere Guillette _en croupe_, while Germain returned
triumphantly to the farm-yard with his dear little wife.
Then the merry cavalcade set forth, escorted by children on foot, who
fired pistols as they ran and made the horses jump. Mere Maurice was
riding in a small cart with Germain's three children and the fiddlers.
They opened the march to the sound of the instruments. Petit-Pierre was
so handsome that the old grandmother was immensely proud. But the
impulsive child did not stay long beside her. He took advantage of a
halt they were obliged to make, when they had gone half the distance, in
order to pass a difficult ford, to slip down and ask his father to take
him up on Grise in front of him.
"No, no!" said Germain, "that will make people say unkind things about
us! you mustn't do it."
"I care very little what the people of Saint-Chartier say," said little
Marie. "Take him, Germain, I beg you; I shall be prouder of him than of
Germain yielded the point, and the handsome trio dashed forward at
Grise's proudest gallop.
And, in fact, the people of Saint-Chartier, although very satirical and
a little inclined to be disagreeable in their intercourse with the
neighboring parishes which had been combined with theirs, did not think
of laughing when they saw such a handsome bridegroom and lovely bride,
and a child that a king's wife would have envied. Petit-Pierre had a
full coat of blue-bottle colored cloth, and a cunning little red
waistcoat so short that it hardly came below his chin. The village
tailor had made the sleeves so tight that he could not put his little
arms together. And how proud he was! He had a round hat with a black and
gold buckle and a peacock's feather protruding jauntily from a tuft of
Guinea-hen's feathers. A bunch of flowers larger than his head covered
his shoulder, and ribbons floated down to his feet. The hemp-beater, who
was also the village barber and wig-maker, had cut his hair in a circle,
covering his head with a bowl and cutting off all that protruded, an
infallible method of guiding the scissors accurately. Thus accoutred, he
was less picturesque, surely, than with his long hair flying in the wind
and his lamb's fleece _a la_ Saint John the Baptist; but he had no such
idea, and everybody admired him, saying that he looked like a little
man. His beauty triumphed over everything, and, in sooth, over what
would not the incomparable beauty of childhood triumph?
His little sister Solange had, for the first time in her life, a real
cap instead of the little child's cap of Indian muslin that little girls
wear up to the age of two or three years. And such a cap! higher and
broader than the poor little creature's whole body. And how lovely she
considered herself! She dared not turn her head, and sat perfectly
straight and stiff, thinking that people would take her for the bride.
As for little Sylvain, he was still in long dresses and lay asleep on
his grandmother's knees, with no very clear idea of what a wedding might
Germain gazed affectionately at his children, and said to his fiancee,
as they arrived at the mayor's office:
"Do you know, Marie, I ride up to this door a little happier than I was
the day I brought you home from the woods of Chanteloube, thinking that
you would never love me; I took you in my arms to put you on the ground
just as I do now, but I didn't think we should ever be together again on
good Grise with this child on our knees. I love you so much, you see, I
love those dear little ones so much, I am so happy because you love me
and love them and because my people love you, and I love my mother and
my friends and everybody so much to-day, that I wish I had three or four
hearts to hold it all. Really, one is too small to hold so much love and
so much happiness! I have something like a pain in my stomach."
There was a crowd at the mayor's door and at the church to see the
pretty bride. Why should we not describe her costume? it became her so
well. Her cap of white embroidered muslin had flaps trimmed with lace.
In those days, peasant-women did not allow themselves to show a single
hair; and although their caps conceal magnificent masses of hair rolled
in bands of white thread to keep the head-dress in place, even in these
days it would be considered an immodest and shameful action to appear
before men bareheaded. They do allow themselves now, however, to wear a
narrow band across the forehead, which improves their appearance very
much. But I regret the classic head-dress of my time: the white lace
against the skin had a suggestion of old fashioned chastity which seemed
to me more solemn, and when a face was beautiful under those
circumstances, it was a beauty whose artless charm and majesty no words
Little Marie still wore that head dress, and her forehead was so white
and so pure that it defied the white of the linen to cast a shadow upon
it. Although she had not closed her eyes during the night, the morning
air, and above all things the inward joy of a soul as spotless as the
sky, and a little hidden fire, held in check by the modesty of youth,
sent to her cheeks a flush as delicate as the peach-blossom in the early
days of April.
Her white fichu, chastely crossed over her bosom, showed only the
graceful contour of a neck as full and round as a turtle-dove's; her
morning dress of fine myrtle-green cloth marked the shape of her slender
waist, which seemed perfect, but was likely to grow and develop, for she
was only seventeen. She wore an apron of violet silk, with the pinafore
which our village women have made a great mistake in abolishing, and
which imparted so much modesty and refinement to the chest. To-day, they
spread out their fichus more proudly, but there is no longer that sweet
flower of old-fashioned pudicity in their costume that made them
resemble Holbein's virgins. They are more coquettish, more graceful. The
correct style in the old days was a sort of unbending stiffness which
made their infrequent smiles more profound and more ideal.
At the offertory, Germain, according to the usual custom, placed the
_treizain_--that is to say, thirteen pieces of silver--in his fiancee's
hand. He placed on her finger a silver ring of a shape that remained
invariable for centuries, but has since been replaced by the _band of
gold._ As they left the church, Marie whispered: "Is it the ring I
wanted? the one I asked you for, Germain?"
"Yes," he replied, "the one my Catherine had on her finger when she
died. The same ring for both my marriages."