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   Chapter 12 THE VILLAGE LIONESS

The Devil's Pool By George Sand Characters: 6759

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


However, when he had repaired the disorder of travel in his clothes and his horse's accoutrements, when he was mounted upon Grise and had ascertained the road to Fourche, he reflected that there was no drawing back and that he must forget that night of excitement as a dangerous dream.

He found Père Léonard in the doorway of his white house, sitting on a pretty wooden bench painted spinach green. There were six stone steps leading to the frontdoor, showing that the house had a cellar. The wall between the garden and hemp-field was roughcast with lime and pebbles. It was an attractive place; one might almost have taken it for the abode of a substantial bourgeois.

Germain's prospective father-in-law came to meet him, and, after five minutes spent in questioning him concerning his whole family, he added this phrase, invariably used to question courteously those whom one meets as to the object of their journey: "So you have come out this way for a little ride, eh?"

"I came to see you," replied the ploughman, "and to offer you this little gift of game from my father-in-law, and to say, also from him, that you would know my purpose in coming."

"Ha! ha!" laughed Père Léonard, patting his round paunch, "I see, I hear, I understood!" And he added, with a wink: "You'll not be alone in paying your respects, my young friend. There are three in the house already, dancing attendance like you. I don't turn anybody away, and I should be hard put to it to decide against any one of them, for they're all good matches. However, on account of Pere Maurice and the quality of your lands, I should prefer you. But my daughter's of age and mistress of her own property; so she will do as she pleases. Go in and introduce yourself; I hope you may draw the lucky number!"

"Pardon, excuse me," replied Germain, greatly surprised to find himself one of several, where he had expected to be alone. "I didn't know that your daughter was already provided with suitors, and I didn't come to dispute for her with others."

"If you thought that because you were slow in coming," retorted Père Léonard, with undiminished good-humor, "you would catch my daughter napping, you made a very great mistake, my boy. Catherine has something to attract husbands with, and she'll have only too many to choose from. But go into the house, I tell you, and don't lose courage. She's a woman worth disputing for."

And, pushing Germain by the shoulders with rough good-humor, "Here, Catherine," he cried, entering the house, "here's one more!"

This jovial but vulgar manner of being introduced to the widow, in the presence of her other suitors, put the finishing touch to the ploughman's confusion and annoyance. He felt ill at ease, and stood for some moments without venturing to turn his eyes on the fair one and her court.

The Widow Guérin was well made, and did not lack freshness. But the expression of her face and her costume repelled Germain at the first glance. She had a forward, self-satisfied air, and her mob-cap trimmed with a triple row of lace, her silk apron, and her black lace fichu were decidedly not in harmony with the idea he had conceived of a sedate, serious-minded widow.

This elegance in dress and her free and easy manners made her appear old and ugly to him, although she was neither. He thought that such coquettish attire and such playful man

ners would be well suited to the age and keen wit of little Marie, but that such pleasantry on the widow's part was heavy and stale, and that there was no distinction in the way she wore her fine clothes.

The three suitors were sitting at a table laden with food and wine, which were kept there for them through the whole of Sunday morning; for Père Léonard loved to exhibit his opulence, nor was the widow sorry to display her fine plate and to keep open house like a woman of means. Germain, simple and trustful as he was, did not lack penetration in his observation of things, and for the first time in his life he stood on the defensive while drinking. Père Léonard had compelled him to take a seat with his rivals, and, seating himself opposite him, he treated him as handsomely as possible, and devoted himself to him with evident partiality. The gift of game, despite the breach Germain had made in it on his own account, was still considerable enough to produce an effect. The widow seemed to appreciate it, and the suitors eyed it disdainfully.

Germain felt ill at ease in that company, and did not eat with any heartiness. Père Léonard rallied him about it.-"You seem very down in the mouth," he said, "and you're sulking with your glass. You mustn't let love spoil your appetite, for a fasting lover can't find so many pretty things to say as the man who has sharpened up his wits with a mouthful of wine."

Germain was mortified that it should be assumed that he was in love; and the affected demeanor of the widow, who lowered her eyes with a smile, like one who is sure of her game, made him long to protest against his alleged surrender; but he feared to seem discourteous, so he smiled and took patience.

The widow's lovers seemed to him like three rustic clowns. They must have been rich, or she would not have listened to their suits. One of them was more than forty, and was about as stout as Père Léonard; another had but one eye, and drank so much that it made him stupid; the third was young and not a bad-looking fellow; but he attempted to be witty, and said such insane things that one could but pity him. But the widow laughed as if she admired all his idiotic remarks, and therein she gave no proof of good taste. Germain thought at first that she was in love with the young man; but he soon perceived that he was himself the recipient of marked encouragement, and that she wished him to yield more readily to her charms. That was to him a reason for feeling and appearing even colder and more solemn.

The hour of Mass arrived, and they left the table to attend in a body. They had to go to Mers, a good half-league away, and Germain was so tired that he would have been glad of an opportunity to take a nap first: but he was not in the habit of being absent from Mass, and he started with the others.

The roads were filled with people, and the widow walked proudly along, escorted by her three suitors, taking the arm of one, then of another, bridling up and carrying her head high. She would have been very glad to exhibit the fourth to the passers-by; but it seemed so ridiculous to be paraded thus in company by a petticoat, in everybody's sight, that he kept at a respectful distance, talking with Père Léonard and finding a way to divert his thoughts and occupy his mind so that they did not seem to belong to the party.

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