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   Chapter 10 DESPITE THE COLD

The Devil's Pool By George Sand Characters: 11505

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Little Marie seemed to pay no further heed to the child's strange words than to look upon them as a proof of friendship; she wrapped him up carefully, stirred the fire, and, as the mist lying upon the neighboring pool gave no sign of lifting, she advised Germain to lie down near the fire and have a nap.

"I see that you're almost asleep now," she said, "for you don't say a word, and you are staring at the fire just as your little one did just now. Come, go to sleep, and I will watch over you and the child."

"You're the one to go to sleep," replied the ploughman, "and I will watch both of you, for I never was less inclined to sleep; I have fifty ideas in my head."

"Fifty, that's a good many," said the maiden, with some suggestion of mockery in her tone; "there are so many people who would like to have one!"

"Well, if I am not capable of having fifty, at all events I have one that hasn't left me for an hour."

"And I'll tell you what it is, as well as the ones you had before it."

"Very good! tell me, if you can guess, Marie; tell me yourself, I shall like that."

"An hour ago," she retorted, "you had the idea of eating, and now you have the idea of sleeping."

"Marie, I am only an ox-driver at best, but really, you seem to take me for an ox. You're a bad girl, and I see that you don't want to talk with me. Go to sleep, that will be better than criticising a man who isn't in good spirits."

"If you want to talk, let us talk," said the girl, half-reclining beside the child and resting her head against the saddle. "You're determined to worry, Germain, and in that you don't show much courage for a man. What should I not say, if I didn't fight as hard as I can against my own grief?"

"What, indeed; and that is just what I have in my head, my poor child! You're going to live far away from your people in a wretched place, all moors and bogs, where you will catch the fever in autumn, where there's no profit in raising sheep for wool, which always vexes a shepherdess who is interested in her business; and then you will be among strangers who may not be kind to you, who won't understand what you are worth. Upon my word, it pains me more than I can tell you, and I have a mind to take you back to your mother, instead of going to Fourche."

"You speak very kindly, but without sense, my poor Germain; one shouldn't be cowardly for his friends, and instead of pointing out the dark side of my lot, you ought to show me the bright side, as you did when we dined at La Rebec's."

"What would you have? that's the way things looked to me then, and they look different now. You would do better to find a husband."

"That can't be, Germain, as I told you; and as it can't be, I don't think about it."

"But suppose you could find one, after all? Perhaps, if you would tell me what sort of a man you'd like him to be, I could succeed in thinking up some one."

"To think up some one is not to find him. I don't think about it at all, for it's of no use."

"You have never thought of finding a rich husband?"

"No, of course not, as I am poor as Job."

"But if he should be well off, you wouldn't be sorry to be well lodged, well fed, well dressed, and to belong to a family of good people who would allow you to help your mother along?"

"Oh! as to that, yes! to help my mother is my only wish."

"And if you should meet such a man, even if he wasn't in his first youth, you wouldn't object very much?"

"Oh! excuse me, Germain. That's just the thing I am particular about. I shouldn't like an old man."

"An old man, of course not; but a man of my age, for instance?"

"Your age is old for me, Germain; I should prefer Bastien so far as age goes, though Bastien isn't such a good-looking man as you."

"You would prefer Bastien the swineherd?" said Germain bitterly. "A fellow with eyes like the beasts he tends!"

"I would overlook his eyes for the sake of his eighteen years."

Germain had a horrible feeling of jealousy.-"Well, well," he said, "I see that your mind is set on Bastien. It's a queer idea, all the same!"

"Yes, it would be a queer idea," replied little Marie, laughing heartily, "and he would be a queer husband. You could make him believe whatever you chose. For instance, I picked up a tomato in monsieur le curé's garden the other day; I told him it was a fine red apple, and he bit into it like a glutton. If you had seen the wry face he made! Mon Dieu, how ugly he was!"

"You don't love him then, as you laugh at him?"

"That wouldn't be any reason. But I don't love him: he's cruel to his little sister, and he isn't clean."

"Very good! and you don't feel inclined toward anybody else?"

"What difference does it make to you, Germain?"

"No difference, it's just for something to talk about. I see, my girl, that you have a sweetheart in your head already."

"No, Germain, you're mistaken, I haven't one yet; it may come later: but as I shall not marry till I have saved up a little money, it will be my lot to marry late and to marry an old man."

"Well, then, take an old man now."

"No indeed! when I am no longer young myself, it will be all the same to me; now it would be different."

"I see, Marie, that you don't like me; that's very clear," said Germain angrily, and without weighing his words.

Little Marie did not reply. Germain leaned over her: she was asleep; she had fallen back, conquered, struck down, as it were, by drowsiness, like children who fall asleep while they are prattling.

Germain was well pleased that she had not heard his last words; he realized that they were unwise, and he turned his back upon her, trying to change the current of his thoughts.

But it was of no avail, he could not sleep,

nor could he think of anything else than what he had just said. He walked around the fire twenty times, walked away and returned; at last, feeling as excited as if he had swallowed a mouthful of gunpowder, he leaned against the tree that sheltered the two children and watched them sleeping.

Chapter IX

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.

"I don't know why I never noticed that little Marie is the prettiest girl in the province!" he thought. "She hasn't a great deal of color, but her little face is as fresh as a wild rose! What a pretty mouth and what a cunning little nose!-She isn't tall for her age, but she's built like a little quail and light as a lark!-I don't know why they think so much at home of a tall, stout, red-faced woman. My wife was rather thin and pale, and she suited me above all others.-This girl is delicate, but she's perfectly well and as pretty to look at as a white kid! And what a sweet, honest way she has! how well you can read her kind heart in her eyes, even when they are closed in sleep!-As for wit, she has more than my dear Catherine had, I must admit, and one would never be bored with her.-She's light-hearted, she's virtuous, she's a hard worker, she's affectionate, and she's amusing.-I don't see what more one could ask.

"But what business have I to think of all that?" resumed Germain, trying to look in another direction. "My father-in-law wouldn't listen to it, and the whole family would treat me as a madman! Besides, she herself wouldn't have me, poor child!-She thinks I am too old: she told me so. She isn't interested; it doesn't worry her much to think of being in want and misery, of wearing poor clothes and suffering with hunger two or three months in the year, provided that she satisfies her heart some day and can give herself to a husband who suits her-and she's right, too! I would do the same in her place-and at this moment, if I could follow my own will, instead of embarking on a marriage that I don't like the idea of, I would choose a girl to my taste."

The more Germain strove to argue with himself and calm himself, the less he succeeded. He walked twenty steps away, to lose himself in the mist; and then he suddenly found himself on his knees beside the two sleeping children. Once he even tried to kiss Petit-Pierre, who had one arm around Marie's neck, and he went so far astray that Marie, feeling a breath as hot as fire upon her lips, awoke and looked at him in terror, understanding nothing of what was taking place within him.

"I didn't see you, my poor children!" said Germain, quickly drawing back. "I came very near falling on you and hurting you."

Little Marie was innocent enough to believe him and went to sleep again. Germain went to the other side of the fire, and vowed that he would not stir until she was awake. He kept his word, but it was a hard task. He thought that he should go mad.

At last, about midnight, the fog disappeared, and Germain could see the stars shining through the trees. The moon also shook itself clear of the vapors that shrouded it and began to sow diamonds on the damp moss. The trunks of the oak-trees remained in majestic obscurity; but, a little farther away, the white stems of the birches seemed like a row of phantoms in their shrouds. The fire was reflected in the pool; and the frogs, beginning to become accustomed to it, hazarded a few shrill, timid notes; the knotty branches of the old trees, bristling with pale lichens, crossed and recrossed, like great fleshless arms, over our travellers' heads; it was a lovely spot, but so lonely and melancholy that Germain, weary of suffering there, began to sing and to throw stones into the water to charm away the ghastly ennui of solitude. He wanted also to wake little Marie; and when he saw her rise and look about to see what the weather was like, he suggested that they should resume their journey.

"In two hours," he said, "the approach of dawn will make the air so cold that we couldn't stay here, notwithstanding our fire.-Now we can see where we are going, and we shall be sure to find a house where they will let us in, or at least a barn where we can pass the rest of the night under cover."

Marie had no wish in the matter; and although she was still very sleepy, she prepared to go with Germain.

He took his son in his arms without waking him, and insisted that Marie should come and take a part of his cloak as she would not take her own from around Petit-Pierre.

When he felt the girl so near him, Germain, who had succeeded in diverting his thoughts and had brightened up a little for a moment, began to lose his head again. Two or three times he walked abruptly away from her and left her to walk by herself. Then, seeing that she had difficulty in keeping up with him, he waited for her, drew her hastily to his side, and held her so tight that she was amazed and angry too, although she dared not say so.

As they had no idea in what direction they had started out, they did not know in what direction they were going; so that they passed through the whole forest once more, found themselves again on the edge of the deserted moor, retraced their steps, and, after turning about and walking a long while, they spied a light through the trees.

"Good! there's a house," said Germain, "and people already awake, as the fire's lighted. Can it be very late?"

But it was not a house: it was their camp-fire which they had covered when they left it, and which had rekindled in the breeze.

They had walked about for two hours, only to find themselves back at their starting-point.

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