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   Chapter 6 PETIT-PIERRE

The Devil's Pool By George Sand Characters: 11509

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Grise was young and strong and handsome. She carried her double load easily, putting back her ears and champing her bit like the proud, high-spirited mare she was. As they rode by the long pasture, she spied her mother-who was called Old Grise, as she was called Young Grise-and neighed an adieu. Old Grise approached the fence, making her hopples ring, tried to leap over into the road to follow her daughter; then, seeing that she started off at a fast trot, she neighed in her turn, and stood looking after her, pensive and disturbed in mind, with her nose in the air, and her mouth filled with grass which she forgot to eat.

"The poor creature still knows her progeny," said Germain to divert little Marie's thoughts from her grief. "That makes me think that I didn't kiss my Petit-Pierre before I started. The bad boy wasn't there. Last night, he strove to make me promise to take him along, and he cried a good hour in his bed. This morning again he tried everything to persuade me. Oh! what a shrewd, wheedling little rascal he is! but when he saw that it couldn't be, monsieur lost his temper: he went off into the fields, and I haven't seen him all day."

"I saw him," said Marie, trying to force back her tears. "He was running toward the woods with the Soulas children, and I thought it likely he had been away for some time, for he was hungry, and was eating wild plums and blackberries off the bushes. I gave him some bread from my luncheon, and he said: 'Thanks, my dear little Marie; when you come to our house, I'll give you some cake.' The little fellow is just too winning, Germain!"

"Yes, he is a winning child, and I don't know what I wouldn't do for him," the ploughman replied. "If his grandmother hadn't had more sense than I, I couldn't have kept from taking him with me when I saw him crying so hard that his poor little heart was all swollen."

"Well! why didn't you bring him, Germain? he wouldn't have been in the way; he's so good when you do what he wants you to."

"It seems that he would have been in the way where I am going. At least, that was Père Maurice's opinion.-For my part, I should have said, on the contrary, that we ought to see how he would be received, and that nobody could help taking kindly to such a dear child.-But they say at the house that I mustn't begin by exhibiting the burdens of the household.-I don't know why I talk to you about this, little Marie: you don't understand it."

"Yes, I do, Germain; I know you are going to get a wife; my mother told me, and bade me not mention it to any one, either at home or where I am going, and you needn't be afraid: I won't say a word."

"You will do well, for it isn't settled; perhaps I shan't suit the lady in question."

"We must hope you will, Germain. Pray, why shouldn't you suit her?"

"Who knows? I have three children, and that's a heavy load for a woman who isn't their mother!"

"That's true; but your children aren't like other children."

"Do you think so?"

"They are as beautiful as little angels, and so well brought up that you can't find more lovable children anywhere."

"There's Sylvain, he's not over good."

"He's very small! he can't be anything but terrible; but he's so bright!"

"True, he is bright: and such courage! he isn't a bit afraid of cows or bulls, and if I would permit him, he'd be climbing up on the horses with his older brother."

"If I had been in your place, I'd have brought the older one. Your having such a beautiful child would surely make her love you on the spot!"

"Yes, if the woman is fond of children; but suppose she doesn't like them?"

"Are there women who don't like children?"

"Not many, I think; but there are some, and that is what worries me."

"Then you don't know this woman at all?"

"No more than you do, and I am afraid I shall not know her any better after I have seen her. I am not suspicious. When any one says pleasant words to me, I believe them; but I have had reason to repent more than once, for words are not deeds."

"They say she's a fine woman."

"Who says so? Père Maurice?"

"Yes, your father-in-law."

"That's all right; but he doesn't know her, either."

"Well, you will soon see her; you will be very careful, and it's to be hoped you won't make any mistake, Germain."

"Look you, little Marie, I should be very glad if you would go into the house for a little while before going on to Ormeaux: you're a shrewd girl, you have always shown that you have a keen mind, and you notice everything. If you see anything that makes you think, you can quietly tell me about it."

"Oh! no, Germain, I wouldn't do that! I should be too much afraid of being mistaken; and, besides, if a word spoken thoughtlessly should disgust you with this marriage, your people would blame me for it, and I have enough troubles without bringing fresh ones on my poor dear mother's head."

As they were talking thus, Grise pricked up her ears and shied, then retraced her steps and approached the hedge, where there was something which had frightened her at first, but which she now began to recognize. Germain looked at the hedge and saw something that he took for a lamb in the ditch, under the branches of an oak still thick and green.

"It's a stray lamb," he said, "or a dead one, for it doesn't move. Perhaps some one is looking for it; we must see."

"It isn't a lamb," cried little Marie; "it's a child asleep; it's your Petit-Pierre."

"Upon my word!" exclaimed Germain, dismounting; "just see the little imp lying there asleep, so far from home, and in a ditch, where a snake might find him!"

He raised the child, who opened his eyes and smiled at him, saying, as he threw his arms around his neck:

"Little father, y

ou're going to take me with you!"

"Oh, yes! still the same song! what were you doing there, naughty Pierre?"

"I was waiting for my little father to pass; I was looking out on the road, and I looked so hard I went to sleep."

"And if I had passed without seeing you, you would have stayed out all night and the wolf would have eaten you!"

"Oh! I knew you'd see me!" rejoined Petit-Pierre confidently.

"Well, kiss me now, Pierre, bid me good-by, and run back to the house if you don't want them to have supper without you."

"Why, ain't you going to take me with you?" cried the child, beginning to rub his eyes to show that he proposed to weep.

"You know grandpa and grandma don't approve of it," said Germain, taking refuge behind the authority of the old people, like one who places but slight reliance on his own.

But the child heard nothing. He began to cry in good earnest, saying that as long as his father took little Marie, he could take him too. He was told that they would have to go through great forests, that there were many wicked animals there that ate little children, that Grise would not carry three, that she said so when they started, and that in the country they were going to there was no bed or supper for little monkeys. All these excellent reasons did not convince Petit-Pierre; he threw himself on the grass and rolled about, crying that his father did not love him, and that, if he refused to take him with him, he would not go back to the house day or night.

Germain's fatherly heart was as soft and weak as a woman's. His wife's death, the care he had been compelled to bestow upon his little ones, together with the thought that the poor motherless children needed to be dearly loved, had combined to make it so, and such a hard struggle took place within him, especially as he was ashamed of his weakness, and tried to conceal his distress from little Marie, that the perspiration stood out on his forehead and his eyes were bordered with red as if they, too, were all ready to shed tears. Finally, he tried to be angry; but as he turned to little Marie, as if to call her to witness his firmness of will, he saw that the dear girl's face was bathed in tears, and, all his courage deserting him, it was impossible for him to keep back his own, although he continued to scold and threaten.

"Really, your heart is too hard," said little Marie at last, "and for my part, I could never hold out like that against a child who is so unhappy. Come, Germain, take him along. Your mare is used to carrying two grown people and a child, for your brother-in-law and his wife, who is much heavier than I am, go to market every Saturday, with their boy, on the honest creature's back. You can put him up in front of you; indeed, I'd rather go all alone on foot than make the little fellow suffer so."

"Don't be disturbed about that," said Germain, who was dying with anxiety to be persuaded. "Grise is strong, and would carry two more if there was room on her backbone. But what shall we do with the child on the way? he will be cold and hungry-and who will look after him to-night and to-morrow, put him to bed, wash him and dress him? I don't dare put that trouble on a woman whom I don't know, and who will think, I have no doubt, that I stand very little on ceremony with her for a beginning."

"According to the good-will or annoyance she shows, you will be able to judge her at once, Germain, believe me; and at all events, if she doesn't take to your Pierre, I will take charge of him. I will go to her house to dress him, and I'll take him into the fields to-morrow. I'll amuse him all day, and see that he has all he needs."

"And he'll tire you out, my poor girl! He'll be a burden to you! a whole day-that's a long while!"

"On the contrary, I shall enjoy it; he will be company for me, and make me less unhappy the first day I shall have to pass in a new country. I shall fancy I am still at home."

The child, seeing that little Marie was taking his part, had clung to her skirt and held it so tight that she would have had to hurt him to take it away. When he saw that his father was yielding, he took Marie's hand in both his little sunburned ones and kissed it, leaping for joy, and pulling her toward the mare with the burning impatience that children show in all their desires.

"Well, well," said the girl, taking him in her arms, "we must try to soothe this poor heart that is jumping like a little bird's, and if you feel cold when night comes, my Pierre, just tell me, and I'll wrap you in my cloak. Kiss your little father, and ask him to forgive you for being such a bad boy. Tell him that it shall never happen again! never, do you hear?"

"Yes, yes, on condition that I always do what he wants me to, eh?" said Germain, wiping the little fellow's eyes with his handkerchief. "Ah! Marie, you will spoil the rascal for me!-And really, little Marie, you're too good. I don't know why you didn't come to us as shepherdess last midsummer. You could have taken care of my children, and I would rather have paid you a good price for waiting on them than go in search of a wife who will be very likely to think that she's doing me a great favor by not detesting them."

Chapter VI

He raised the child, who opened his eyes and smiled at him, saying, as he threw his arms around his neck.

"Little father, you are going to take me with you!"

"You mustn't look on the dark side of things like that," replied little Marie, holding the rein while Germain placed his son on the front of the heavy goat-skin-covered saddle; "if your wife doesn't like children, you can hire me next year, and I'll amuse them so well that they won't notice anything, never you fear."

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