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   Chapter 5 LA GUILLETTE

The Devil's Pool By George Sand Characters: 7208

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Père Maurice found in the house an elderly neighbor, who had come to have a chat with his wife, and borrow some embers to light her fire. Mère Guillette lived in a wretched hovel within two gunshots of the farm. But she was a decent woman and a woman of strong will. Her poor house was neat and clean, and her carefully patched clothes denoted proper self-respect with all her poverty.

"You came to get some fire for the night, eh, Mère Guillette?" said the old man. "Is there anything else you would like?"

"No, Père Maurice," she replied; "nothing just now. I'm no beggar, you know, and I don't abuse my friends' kindness."

"That's the truth; and so your friends are always ready to do you a service."

"I was just talking with your wife, and I was asking her if Germain had at last made up his mind to marry again."

"You're no gossip," replied Père Maurice, "and one can speak before you without fear of people talking; so I will tell my wife and you that Germain has really made up his mind; he starts to-morrow for Fourche."

"Bless me!" exclaimed Mère Maurice; "the poor fellow! God grant that he may find a wife as good and honest as himself!"

"Ah! he is going to Fourche?" observed La Guillette. "Just see how things turn out! that helps me very much, and as you asked me just now, Père Maurice, if there was anything I wanted, I'll tell you what you can do to oblige me."

"Tell us, tell us, we shall be glad to oblige."

"I would like to have Germain take the trouble to take my daughter with him."

"Where? to Fourche?"

"Not to Fourche, but to Ormeaux, where she is going to stay the rest of the year."

"What!" said Mère Maurice, "are you going to part from your daughter?"

"She has got to go out to service and earn something. It comes hard enough to me and to her, too, poor soul! We couldn't make up our minds to part at midsummer; but now Martinmas is coming, and she has found a good place as shepherdess on the farms at Ormeaux. The farmer passed through here the other day on his way back from the fair. He saw my little Marie watching her three sheep on the common land.-'You don't seem very busy, my little maid,' he said; 'and three sheep are hardly enough for a shepherd. Would you like to keep a hundred? I'll take you with me. The shepherdess at our place has been taken sick and she's going back to her people, and if you'll come to us within a week, you shall have fifty francs for the rest of the year, up to midsummer.'-The child refused, but she couldn't help thinking about it and telling me when she came home at night and found me sad and perplexed about getting through the winter, which is sure to be hard and long, for we saw the cranes and wild geese fly south this year a full month earlier than usual. We both cried; but at last we took courage. We said to each other that we couldn't stay together, because there's hardly enough to keep one person alive on our little handful of land; and then Marie's getting old-here she is nearly sixteen-and she must do as others do, earn her bread and help her poor mother."

"Mère Guillette," said the old ploughman, "if fifty francs was all that was needed to put an end to your troubles and make it unnecessary for you to send your daughter away, why, I would help you to find them, although fifty francs begins to mean something to people like us. But we must consult good sense as well as friendship in everything. If you were saved from want for this winter, you wouldn't be safe from future want, and the longer your daughter postpones taking the step, the harder it will be for you a

nd for her to part. Little Marie is getting to be tall and strong, and she has nothing to do at home. She might fall into lazy habits-"

"Oh! as far as that goes, I'm not afraid," said Mère Guillette. "Marie's as brave as a rich girl at the head of a big establishment could be. She doesn't sit still a minute with her arms folded, and when we haven't any work, she cleans and rubs our poor furniture and makes every piece shine like a looking-glass. She's a child that's worth her weight in gold, and I'd have liked it much better to have her come to you as a shepherdess instead of going so far away among people I don't know. You'd have taken her at midsummer if we could have made up our minds; but now you've hired all your help, and we can't think of it again until midsummer next year."

"Oh! I agree with all my heart, Guillette! I shall be very glad to do it. But, meanwhile, she will do well to learn a trade and get used to working for others."

"Yes, of course; the die is cast. The farmer at Ormeaux sent for her this morning; we said yes, and she must go. But the poor child doesn't know the way, and I shouldn't like to send her so far all alone. As your son-in-law is going to Fourche to-morrow, he can just as well take her. It seems that it's very near the farm she's going to, according to what they tell me; for I have never been there myself."

"They're right side by side, and my son-in-law will take her. That's as it should be; indeed, he can take her behind him on the mare, and that will save her shoes. Here he is, coming in to supper. I say, Germain, Mère Guillette's little Marie is going to Ormeaux as shepherdess. You'll take her on your horse, won't you?"

"Very well," said Germain, who was preoccupied, but always ready to do his neighbor a service.

In our world, it would never occur to a mother to entrust a daughter of sixteen to a man of twenty-eight! for Germain was really only twenty-eight, and although, according to the ideas of his province, he was considered an old man so far as marriage was concerned, he was still the handsomest man in the neighborhood. Work had not furrowed and wrinkled his face, as is the case with most peasants who have ten years of ploughing behind them. He was strong enough to plough ten more years without looking old, and the prejudice of age must have been very strong in a young girl's mind to prevent her remarking that Germain had a fresh complexion, a bright eye, blue as the heavens in May, ruddy lips, superb teeth, and a body as graceful and supple as that of a colt that has never left the pasture.

But chastity is a sacred tradition in certain country districts, far removed from the corrupt animation of large cities, and Maurice's family was noted among all the families of Belair for uprightness, and fidelity to the truth. Germain was going in search of a wife; Marie was too young and too pure for him to think of her in that light, and, unless he was a heartless, bad man, it was impossible that he should have a guilty thought in connection with her. Père Maurice was in no way disturbed, therefore, to see him take the pretty girl en croupe; La Guillette would have considered that she was insulting him if she had requested him to respect her as his sister. Marie mounted the mare, weeping bitterly, after she had kissed her mother and her young friends twenty times over. Germain, who was also in a melancholy mood, had the more sympathy with her grief, and rode away with a grave face, while the neighbors waved their hands in farewell to poor Marie, with no thought of evil to come.

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