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   Chapter 11 IN THE OPEN AIR

The Devil's Pool By George Sand Characters: 11429

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


"This time I give it up!" said Germain, stamping on the ground. "A spell has been cast on us, that's sure, and we shall not get away from here till daylight. This place must be bewitched."

"Well, well, let's not lose our tempers," said Marie, "but let us make the best of it. We'll make a bigger fire, the child is so well wrapped up that he runs no risk, and it won't kill us to pass a night out-of-doors. Where did you hide the saddle, Germain? In the middle of the holly-bushes, you great stupid! It's such a convenient place to go and get it!"

"Here, take the child, while I pull his bed out of the brambles; I don't want you to prick your fingers."

"It's all done, there's the bed, and a few pricks aren't sword-cuts," retorted the brave girl.

She proceeded to put little Pierre to bed once more; the boy was so sound asleep by that time, that he knew nothing about their last journey. Germain piled so much wood on the fire that it lighted up the forest all around; but little Marie was at the end of her strength, and, although she did not complain, her legs refused to hold her. She was deathly pale, and her teeth chattered with cold and weakness. Germain took her in his arms to warm her; and anxiety, compassion, an irresistible outburst of tenderness taking possession of his heart, imposed silence on his passions. His tongue was loosened, as if by a miracle, and as all feeling of shame disappeared, he said to her:

"Marie, I like you, and I am very unfortunate in not making you like me. If you would take me for your husband, neither father-in-law nor relations nor neighbors nor advice could prevent me from giving myself to you. I know you would make my children happy and teach them to respect their mother's memory, and, as my conscience would be at rest, I could satisfy my heart. I have always been fond of you, and now I am so in love with you that if you should ask me to spend my life fulfilling your thousand wishes, I would swear on the spot to do it. Pray, pray, see how I love you and forget my age! Just think what a false idea it is that people have that a man of thirty is old. Besides, I am only twenty-eight! a girl is afraid of being criticised for taking a man ten or twelve years older than she is, because it isn't the custom of the province; but I have heard that in other places they don't think about that; on the other hand, they prefer to give a young girl, for her support, a sober-minded man and one whose courage has been put to the test, rather than a young fellow who may go wrong, and turn out to be a bad lot instead of the nice boy he is supposed to be. And then, too, years don't always make age. That depends on a man's health and strength. When a man is worn out by overwork and poverty, or by evil living, he is old before he's twenty-five. While I-But you're not listening to me, Marie."

"Yes, I am, Germain, I hear what you say," replied little Marie; "but I am thinking of what my mother has always told me: that a woman of sixty is much to be pitied when her husband is seventy or seventy-five and can't work any longer to support her. He grows infirm, and she must take care of him at an age when she herself is beginning to have great need of care and rest. That is how people come to end their lives in the gutter."

"Parents are right to say that, I agree, Marie," said Germain; "but, after all, they would sacrifice the whole of youth, which is the best part of life, to provide against what may happen at an age when one has ceased to be good for anything, and when one is indifferent about ending his life in one way or another. But I am in no danger of dying of hunger in my old age. I am in a fair way to save up something, because, living as I do with my wife's people, I work hard and spend nothing. Besides, I will love you so well, you know, that that will prevent me from growing old. They say that when a man's happy he retains his youth, and I feel that I am younger than Bastien just from loving you; for he doesn't love you, he's too stupid, too much of a child to understand how pretty and good you are, and made to be courted. Come, Marie, don't hate me, I am not a bad man; I made my Catherine happy; she said before God, on her death-bed, that she had never been anything but contented with me, and she advised me to marry again. It seems that her heart spoke to her child to-night, just as he went to sleep. Didn't you hear what he said? and how his little mouth trembled while his eyes were looking at something in the air that we couldn't see! He saw his mother, you may be sure, and she made him say that he wanted you to take her place."

"Germain," Marie replied, greatly surprised and very grave, "you talk straightforwardly, and all you say is true. I am sure that I should do well to love you, if it wouldn't displease your relations too much; but what would you have me do? my heart says nothing to me for you. I like you very much; but although your age doesn't make you ugly, it frightens me. It seems to me as if you were something like an uncle or godfather to me; that I owe you respect, and that there would be times when you would treat me as a little girl rather than as your wife and your equal. And then my girl friends would laugh at me, perhaps, and although it would be foolish to pay any attention to that, I think I should be ashamed and a little bit sad on my wedding-day."

"Those are childish reasons; you talk exactly like a child, Marie!"

"Well, yes, I am a child," she said, "and that is just why I am afraid of a man who knows too much. You see, I'm too young for you, for you are finding fault with me already for talking foolishly! I can't have more sense than belongs to

my years."

"Alas! mon Dieu! how I deserve to be pitied for being so awkward and for my ill-success in saying what I think! Marie, you don't love me, that's the fact; you think I am too simple and too dull. If you loved me a little, you wouldn't see my defects so plainly. But you don't love me, you see!"

"Well, it isn't my fault," she replied, a little wounded by his dropping the familiar form of address he had hitherto used; "I do the best I can while I listen to you, but the harder I try, the less able I am to make myself believe that we ought to be husband and wife."

Germain did not reply. He hid his face in his hands and it was impossible for little Marie to tell whether he was crying or sulking or asleep. She was a little disturbed to see him so depressed, and to be unable to divine what was going on in his mind; but she dared say no more to him, and as she was too much astonished by what had taken place to have any desire to go to sleep again, she waited impatiently for daybreak, continuing to keep up the fire and watching the child, whom Germain seemed to have forgotten. Germain, meanwhile, was not asleep; he was not reflecting on his lot, nor was he devising any bold stroke, or any plan of seduction. He was suffering keenly, he had a mountain of ennui upon his heart. He wished he were dead. Everything seemed to be turning out badly for him, and if he could have wept, he would not have done it by halves. But there was a little anger with himself mingled with his suffering, and he was suffocating, unable and unwilling to complain.

When day broke and the noise in the fields announced the fact to Germain, he took his hands from his face and rose. He saw that little Marie had not slept, either, but he could think of nothing to say to her to show his solicitude. He was utterly discouraged. He concealed Grise's saddle in the bushes once more, took his bag over his shoulder, and said, taking his son's hand:

"Now, Marie, we'll try and finish our journey. Do you want me to take you to Ormeaux?"

"We will go out of the woods together," she replied, "and when we know where we are, we will go our separate ways."

Germain said nothing. He was wounded because the girl did not ask him to escort her to Ormeaux, and he did not realize that he had made the offer in a tone that seemed to challenge a refusal.

A wood-cutter, whom they met within two hundred paces, pointed out the path they must take, and told them that after crossing the great meadow they had only to go, in the one case straight ahead, in the other to the left, to reach their respective destinations, which, by the way, were so near together that the houses at Fourche could be distinctly seen from the farm of Ormeaux, and vice versa.

When they had thanked the wood-cutter and passed on, he called them back to ask if they had not lost a horse.

"I found a fine gray mare in my yard," he said, "where she may have gone to escape the wolf. My dogs barked all night long, and at daybreak I saw the beast under my shed; she's there still. Go and look at her, and if you know her, take her."

Germain, having described Grise and being convinced that it was really she, started back to get his saddle. Little Marie thereupon offered to take the child to Ormeaux, where he could come and get him after he had paid his respects at Fourche.

"He isn't very clean after the night we have passed," she said. "I will brush his clothes, wash his pretty little face, and comb his hair, and when he's all spick and span, you can present him to your new family."

"How do you know that I am going to Fourche?" rejoined Germain testily. "Perhaps I shan't go there."

"Oh! yes, Germain, you ought to go, and you will," said the girl.

"You are in a great hurry to have me married to somebody else, so that you can be sure I won't make myself a nuisance to you."

"Come, come, Germain, don't think any more about that; that's an idea that came to you in the night, because our unpleasant adventure disturbed your wits a little. But now you must be reasonable again; I promise to forget what you said to me and never to mention it to any one."

"Oh! mention it, if you choose. I am not in the habit of taking back what I say. What I said to you was true and honest, and I shan't blush for it before any one."

"Very good; but if your wife knew that you had thought of another woman just at the moment you called on her, it might turn her against you. So be careful what you say now; don't look at me like that, with such a strange expression, before other people. Think of Père Maurice, who relies on your obedience, and who would be very angry with me if I turned you from doing as he wants you to. Good-by, Germain; I'll take Petit-Pierre with me so as to force you to go to Fourche. I keep him as a pledge."

"Do you want to go with her?" said the ploughman to his son, seeing that he was clinging to little Marie's hands and following her resolutely.

"Yes, father," replied the child, who had been listening and understood in his own way what they had been saying unsuspectingly before him. "I am going with my darling Marie: you can come and get me when you're done getting married; but I want Marie to be my little mother, just the same."

"You see that he wants it to be so," Germain said to the young girl. "Listen, Petit-Pierre," he added, "I want her to be your mother and stay with you always: she's the one that isn't willing. Try to make her do what I want her to."

"Don't you be afraid, papa, I'll make her say yes: little Marie always does what I want her to."

He walked away with the girl. Germain was left alone, more depressed and irresolute than ever.

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