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   Chapter 7 ON THE MOOR

The Devil's Pool By George Sand Characters: 8925

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


"By the way," said Germain, when they had ridden on a short distance, "what will they think at home when this little man doesn't appear? The old people will be anxious, and they will scour the country for him."

"You can tell the man working on the road yonder that you have taken him with you, and send him back to tell your people."

"True, Marie, you think of everything! It didn't even occur to me that Jeannie would be in this neighborhood."

"He lives close to the farm, too: he won't fail to do your errand."

When they had taken that precaution, Germain started the mare off at a trot, and Petit Pierre was so overjoyed that he did not notice at first that he had not dined; but as the rapid movement of the horse dug a pit in his stomach, he began, after a league or more, to yawn and turn pale, and at last confessed that he was dying of hunger.

"Now he's beginning," said Germain. "I knew that we shouldn't go far before monsieur would cry from hunger or thirst."

"I'm thirsty, too!" said Petit-Pierre.

"Well, we will go to Mère Rebec's wine-shop at Corlay, at the sign of the Break of Day. A fine sign, but a poor inn! Come, Marie, you will drink a finger of wine too."

"No, no, I don't need anything," she said, "I'll hold the mare while you go in with the little one."

"But now I think of it, my dear girl, you gave the bread you had for your luncheon to my Pierre, and you haven't had anything to eat; you refused to dine with us at the house, and did nothing but weep."

"Oh! I wasn't hungry, I was too sad! and I promise you that I haven't the slightest desire to eat now."

"We must force you to, little one; otherwise you'll be sick. We have a long way to go, and we mustn't arrive there half-starved, and ask for bread before we say good-day. I propose to set you the example, although I'm not very hungry; but I shall make out to eat, considering that I didn't dine very well, either. I saw you and your mother weeping, and it made my heart sick. Come, come, I will tie Grise at the door; get down, I insist upon it."

All three entered Mere Rebec's establishment, and in less than a quarter of an hour the stout, limping hostess succeeded in serving them an omelet of respectable appearance with brown-bread and light wine.

Peasants do not eat quickly, and Petit-Pierre had such an enormous appetite that nearly an hour passed before Germain could think of renewing their journey. Little Marie ate to oblige at first; then her appetite came, little by little; for at sixteen one cannot fast long, and the country air is an imperious master. The kind words Germain said to her to comfort her and give her courage also produced their effect; she made an effort to persuade herself that seven months would soon be passed, and to think how happy she would be to be at home once more, in her own village, since Père Maurice and Germain were agreed in promising to take her into their service. But as she was beginning to brighten up and play with Petit-Pierre, Germain conceived the unfortunate idea of telling her to look out through the wine-shop window at the lovely view of the valley, which they could see throughout its whole length from that elevation, laughing and verdant and fertile. Marie looked, and asked if they could see the houses at Belair from there.

"To be sure," replied Germain, "and the farm, and your house too. Look, that little gray speck, not far from the great poplar at Godard, just below the church-spire."

"Ah! I see it," said the girl; and thereupon she began to weep again.

"I did wrong to remind you of that," said Germain, "I keep doing foolish things to-day! Come, Marie, my girl, let's be off; the days are short, and when the moon comes up, an hour from now, it won't be warm."

They resumed their journey, and rode across the great heath, and as Germain did not urge the mare, in order not to fatigue the girl and the child by a too rapid gait, the sun had set when they left the road to enter the woods.

Germain knew the road as far as Magnier; but he thought that he could shorten it by not taking the avenue of Chanteloube, but going by Presles and La Sépulture, a route which he was not in the habit of taking when he went to the fair. He went astray and lost a little more time before entering the woods; even then he did not enter at the right place, and failed to discover his mistake, so that he turned his back to Fourche and headed much farther up, in

the direction of Ardentes.

He was prevented then from taking his bearings by a mist which came with the darkness, one of those autumn evening mists which the white moonlight makes more vague and more deceptive. The great pools of water which abound in the clearings exhaled such dense vapor that when Grise passed through them, they only knew it by the splashing of her feet and the difficulty she had in pulling them out of the mud.

When they finally found a straight, level path, and had ridden to the end of it, Germain, upon endeavoring to ascertain where he was, realized that he was lost; for Père Maurice, in describing the road, had told him that, on leaving the woods, he would have to descend a very steep hill, cross a very large meadow, and ford the river twice. He had advised him to be cautious about riding into the river, because there had been heavy rains at the beginning of the season, and the water might be a little high. Seeing no steep hill, no meadow, no river, but the level moor, white as a sheet of snow, Germain drew rein, looked about for a house, waited for some one to pass, but saw nothing to give him any information. Thereupon he retraced his steps, and rode back into the woods. But the mist grew denser, the moon was altogether hidden, the roads were very bad, the ruts deep. Twice Grise nearly fell; laden as she was, she lost courage, and although she retained sufficient discernment to avoid running against trees, she could not prevent her riders from having to deal with huge branches which barred the road at the level of their heads and put them in great danger. Germain lost his hat in one of these encounters, and had great difficulty in finding it. Petit-Pierre had fallen asleep, and, lying back like a log, so embarrassed his father's arms that he could not hold the mare up or guide her.

"I believe we're bewitched," said Germain, drawing rein once more: "for these woods aren't big enough for a man to lose himself in unless he's drunk, and here we have been riding round and round for two hours, unable to get out of them. Grise has only one idea in her head, and that is to go back to the house, and she was the one that made me go astray. If we want to go home, we have only to give her her head. But when we may be within two steps of the place where we are to spend the night, we should be mad to give up finding it, and begin such a long ride over again. But I don't know what to do. I can't see either the sky or the ground, and I am afraid this child will take the fever if we stay in this infernal fog, or be crushed by our weight if the horse should fall forward."

"We mustn't persist in riding any farther," said little Marie. "Let's get down, Germain; give me the child; I can carry him very well, and keep him covered up with the cloak better than you can. You can lead the mare, and perhaps we shall see better when we're nearer the ground."

That expedient succeeded only so far as to save them from a fall, for the fog crawled along the damp earth and seemed to cling to it. It was very hard walking, and they were so exhausted by it that they stopped when they at last found a dry place under some great oaks. Little Marie was drenched, but she did not complain or seem disturbed. Thinking only of the child, she sat down in the sand and took him on her knees, while Germain explored the neighborhood after throwing Grise's rein over the branch of a tree.

But Grise, who was thoroughly disgusted with the journey, jumped back, released the reins, broke the girths, and, kicking up her heels higher than her head some half-dozen times, by way of salutation, started off through the brush, showing very plainly that she needed no one's assistance in finding her way.

"Well, well," said Germain, after he had tried in vain to catch her, "here we are on foot, and it would do us no good if we should find the right road, for we should have to cross the river on foot; and when we see how full of water these roads are, we can be sure that the meadow is under water. We don't know the other fords. So we must wait till the mist rises; it can't last more than an hour or two. When we can see, we will look for a house, the first one we can find on the edge of the wood; but at present we can't stir from here; there's a ditch and a pond and I don't know what not in front of us; and I couldn't undertake to say what there is behind us, for I don't know which way we came."

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