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The Devil's Pool By George Sand Characters: 6279

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

Petit-Pierre had sat up, and was looking all about with a thoughtful expression.

"Ah! the rascal never does anything else when he hears anybody eating!" said Germain; "a cannon-shot wouldn't wake him, but move your jaws in his neighborhood, and he opens his eyes at once."

"You must have been like that at his age," said little Marie, with a mischievous smile. "Well, my little Pierre, are you looking for the top of your cradle? It's made of green leaves to-night, my child; but your father's having his supper, all the same. Do you want to sup with him? I haven't eaten your share; I thought you would probably claim it!"

"Marie, I insist on your eating," cried the ploughman; "I shan't eat any more. I am a glutton, a boor; you go without on our account, and it's not right; I'm ashamed of myself. It takes away my appetite, I tell you; I won't let my son have any supper unless you take some."

"Let us alone," replied little Marie, "you haven't the key to our appetites. Mine is closed to-day, but your Pierre's is wide open, like a little wolf's. Just see how he goes at it! Oh! he'll be a sturdy ploughman, too!"

In truth, Petit-Pierre soon showed whose son he was, and, although he was hardly awake and did not understand where he was or how he came there, he began to devour. Then, when his hunger was appeased, being intensely excited as children generally are when their regular habits are interrupted, he exhibited more quick wit, more curiosity, and more shrewdness than usual. He made them tell him where he was, and when he learned that he was in the middle of a forest, he was a little afraid.

"Are there naughty beasts in this forest?" he asked his father.

"No, there are none at all," was the reply. "Don't be afraid."

"Then you lied when you told me that the wolves would carry me off if I went through the big forest with you?"

"Do you hear this reasoner?" said Germain in some embarrassment.

"He is right," replied little Marie, "you told him that; he has a good memory, and he remembers it. But you must understand, my little Pierre, that your father never lies. We passed the big forest while you were asleep, and now we're in the little forest, where there aren't any naughty beasts."

"Is the little forest very far from the big one?"

"Pretty far; and then the wolves never leave the big forest. Even if one should come here, your father would kill him."

"And would you kill him, too, little Marie?"

"We would all kill him, for you would help us, my Pierre, wouldn't you? You're not afraid, I know. You would hit him hard!"

"Yes, yes," said the child, proudly, assuming a heroic attitude, "we would kill 'em."

"There's no one like you for talking to children," said Germain to little Marie, "and for making them hear reason. To be sure, it isn't long since you were a child yourself, and you remember what your mother used to say to you. I believe that the younger one is, the better one understands the young. I am very much afraid that a woman of thirty, who doesn't know what it is to be a mother, will find it hard to learn to prattle and reason with young brats."

"Why so, Germain? I don't know why you have such a bad idea of this woman; you'll get over it!"

"To the devil with the woman!" said Germain. "I would like to go home and never come back here. What do I need of a woman I don't know!"

"Little father," said the child, "why do you keep talking about your wife to-day, when she is dead?"

"Alas! you haven't forgotten your poor dear mother, have you?"

"No, for I saw them put her in a pretty box of white wood, and my grandma took me to her to kiss her and bid her good-by!-She was all white and cold, and every night my aunt tells me to pray to the good Lord to let her get warm with Him in heaven. Do you think she's there now?"

"I hope so, my child; but you must keep on praying: that shows your mother that you love her."

"I am going to say my prayer," replied the child; "I did not think of saying it this evening. But I can't say it all by myself; I always forget something. Little Marie must help me."

"Yes, Pierre, I will help you," said the girl. "Come, kneel here by my side."

The child knelt on the girl's skirt, clasped his little hands, and began to repeat his prayer with interest and fervently at first, for he knew the beginning very well; then more slowly and hesitatingly, and at last repeating word for word what Marie dictated to him, when he reached that point in his petition beyond which he had never been able to learn, as he always fell asleep just there every night. On this occasion, the labor of paying attention and the monotony of his own tones produced their customary effect, so that he pronounced the last syllables only with great effort, and after they had been repeated three times; his head grew heavy, and fell against Marie's breast: his hands relaxed, separated, and fell open upon his knees. By the light of the camp-fire, Germain looked at his little angel nodding against the girl's heart, while she, holding him in her arms and warming his fair hair with her sweet breath, abandoned herself to devout reverie and prayed mentally for Catherine's soul.

Germain was deeply moved, and tried to think of something to say to little Marie to express the esteem and gratitude she inspired in him, but he could find nothing that would give voice to his thoughts. He approached her to kiss his son, whom she was still holding against her breast, and it was hard for him to remove his lips from Petit-Pierre's brow.

"You kiss him too hard," said Marie, gently pushing the ploughman's head away, "you will wake him. Let me put him to bed again, for he has gone back to his dreams of paradise."

The child let her put him down, but as he stretched himself out on the goat-skin of the saddle, he asked if he were on Grise. Then, opening his great blue eyes, and gazing at the branches for a moment, he seemed to be in a waking dream, or to be impressed by an idea that had come into his mind during the day and took shape at the approach of sleep. "Little father," he said, "if you're going to give me another mother, I want it to be little Marie."

And, without awaiting a reply, he closed his eyes and went to sleep.

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