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   Chapter 13 THE MASTER

The Devil's Pool By George Sand Characters: 10579

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


When they reached the village, the widow stopped to wait for them. She was determined to make her entry with her whole suite; but Germain, refusing to afford her that satisfaction, left Père Léonard, spoke with several people of his acquaintance, and entered the church by another door. The widow was vexed with him.

After the Mass, she made her appearance in triumph on the greensward where dancing was in progress, and opened three successive dances with her three lovers. Germain watched her, and concluded that she danced well, but with affectation.

"Well!" said Léonard, clapping him on the shoulder, "so you don't ask my daughter to dance? You are altogether too bashful!"

"I don't dance since I lost my wife," the ploughman replied.

"Oh! but when you're looking for another, mourning's at an end in your heart as well as in your clothes."

"That's no argument, Père Léonard; besides, I feel too old, I don't care for dancing any more."

"Hark ye," rejoined Léonard, leading him apart, "you took offence when you entered my house, because you found the citadel already surrounded by besiegers, and I see that you're very proud; but that isn't reasonable, my boy. My daughter's used to being courted, especially these last two years since her mourning came to an end, and it isn't her place to make advances to you."

"Your daughter has been free to marry again for two years, you say, and hasn't made up her mind yet?" said Germain.

"She doesn't choose to hurry, and she's right. Although she has rather a lively way with her, and you may think she doesn't reflect much, she's a woman of great good sense and one who knows very well what she's about."

"I don't see how that can be," said Germain ingenuously, "for she has three gallants in her train, and if she knew what she wanted, at least two of them would seem to her to be in the way and she would request them to stay at home."

"Why so? you don't know anything about it, Germain. She doesn't want either the old man or the one-eyed one or the young one, I'm almost certain of it; but if she should turn them away, people would say she meant to remain a widow and no others would come."

"Ah, yes! they act as a sign-post for her!"

"As you say. Where's the harm if they like it?"

"Every one to his taste!" said Germain.

"That wouldn't be to your taste, I see. But come, now, we can come to an understanding: supposing that she prefers you, the field could be left clear for you."

"Yes, supposing! And how long must I stand with my nose in the air before I can find out?"

"That depends on yourself, I fancy, if you know how to talk and argue. So far my daughter has understood very clearly that the best part of her life would be the part that she passed in letting men court her, and she doesn't feel in any hurry to become one man's servant when she can give orders to several. And so, as long as the game pleases her, she can divert herself with it; but if you please her more than the game, the game may be stopped. All you have to do is not to be discouraged. Come every Sunday, ask her to dance, give her to understand that you're on the list, and if she finds you more likeable and better informed than the others, I don't doubt that she'll tell you so some fine day."

"Excuse me, Père Léonard, your daughter is entitled to act as she pleases, and I have no right to blame her. I would act differently if I were in her place; I'd be more honest, and I wouldn't let men throw away their time who probably have something better to do than hang around a woman who laughs at them. But, after all, if that entertains her and makes her happy, it's none of my business. But I must tell you one thing that is a little embarrassing for me to confess since this morning, seeing that you began by making a mistake as to my intentions and didn't give me any time to reply; so that you believe something that isn't so. Pray understand that I didn't come here to ask for your daughter's hand, but to buy a pair of oxen that you intend to take to the fair next week and that my father-in-law thinks will suit him."

"I understand, Germain," said Léonard calmly; "you changed your mind when you saw my daughter with her lovers. That's as you please. It seems that what attracts one repels another, and you have the right to withdraw as long as you haven't spoken yet. If you really want to buy my oxen, come and look at them in the pasture; we'll talk it over, and whether we strike a bargain or not, you'll come and take dinner with us before you go back."

"I don't want you to put yourself out," replied Germain, "perhaps you have business here; I'm a little tired of watching them dance and of doing nothing. I'll go to look at your cattle, and join you later at your house."

Thereupon, Germain slipped away and walked toward the meadows, where Léonard had pointed out some of his beasts in the distance. It was true that Père Maurice wanted to buy, and Germain thought that if he should take back a good yoke at a moderate price, he would be pardoned more readily for having voluntarily failed to accomplish the real object of his journey.

He walked fast, and was soon within a short distance of Ormeaux. Thereupon he felt that he must go and kiss his son and see little Marie

once more, although he had lost the hope and banished from his mind the thought of owing his happiness to her. All that he had seen and heard-the vain, giddy woman; the father, at once cunning and shallow, who encouraged his daughter in her pride and disingenuous habits; the imitation of city luxury, which seemed to him an offence against the dignity of country manners; the time wasted in indolent, foolish conversation, that household so different from his own, and, above all, the profound discomfort that the husbandman feels when he lays aside his laborious habits; all the ennui and annoyance he had undergone within the last few hours-made Germain long to be once more with his child and his little neighbor. Even if he had not been in love with the latter, he would have sought her none the less for distraction, and to restore his mind to its accustomed channels.

But he looked in vain in the neighboring fields, he saw neither little Marie nor little Pierre; and yet it was the time when the shepherds are in the fields. There was a large flock in a pasture; he asked a young boy who was tending them if the sheep belonged to the farm of Ormeaux.

"Yes," said the child.

"Are you the shepherd? do boys tend woolly beasts for the farmers in your neighborhood?"

"No. I'm tending 'em to-day because the shepherdess has gone away: she was sick."

"But haven't you a new shepherdess who came this morning?"

"Oh! yes! she's gone, too, already."

"What! gone? didn't she have a child with her?"

"Yes, a little boy; he cried. They both went away after they'd been here two hours."

"Where did they go?"

"Where they came from, I suppose. I didn't ask 'em."

"But what did they go away for?" said Germain, with increasing anxiety.

"Why, how do I know?"

"Didn't they agree about wages? but that must have been agreed on beforehand."

"I can't tell you anything about it. I saw them go in and come out, that's all."

Germain went on to the farm and questioned the farm-hands. No one could explain what had happened; but all agreed that, after talking with the farmer, the girl had gone away without saying a word, taking with her the child, who was weeping.

"Did they ill-treat my son?" cried Germain, his eyes flashing fire.

"He was your son, was he? How did he come to be with that girl? Where are you from, and what's your name?"

Germain, seeing that his questions were answered by other questions, according to the custom of the country, stamped his foot impatiently, and asked to speak with the master.

The master was not there: he was not in the habit of staying the whole day when he came to the farm. He had mounted his horse, and ridden off to some other of his farms.

"But surely you can find out the reason of that young girl's going away?" said Germain, assailed by keen anxiety.

The farm-hand exchanged a strange smile with his wife, then replied that he knew nothing about it, that it did not concern him. All that Germain could learn was that the girl and the child had gone in the direction of Fourche. He hurried to Fourche: the widow and her lovers had not returned, nor had Père Léonard. The servant told him that a young girl and a child had come there and inquired for him, but that she, not knowing them, thought it best not to admit them and advised them to go to Mers.

"Why did you refuse to let them in?" said Germain angrily. "Are you so suspicious in these parts that you don't open your door to your neighbor?"

"Oh! bless me!" the servant replied, "in a rich house like this, one has to keep a sharp lookout. I am responsible for everything when the masters are away, and I can't open the door to everybody that comes."

"That's a vile custom," said Germain, "and I'd rather be poor than live in fear like that. Adieu, girl! adieu to your wretched country!"

He inquired at the neighboring houses. Everybody had seen the shepherdess and the child. As the little one had left Belair unexpectedly, without being dressed for the occasion, with a torn blouse and his little lamb's fleece over his shoulders; and as little Marie was necessarily very shabbily dressed at all times, they had been taken for beggars. Some one had offered them bread; the girl had accepted a piece for the child, who was hungry, then she had walked away very fast with him and had gone into the woods.

Germain reflected a moment, then asked if the farmer from Ormeaux had not come to Fourche.

"Yes," was the reply; "he rode by on horseback a few minutes after the girl."

"Did he ride after her?"

"Ah! you know him, do you?" laughed the village innkeeper, to whom he had applied for information.

"Yes, to be sure; he's a devil of a fellow for running after the girls. But I don't believe he caught that one; although, after all, if he had seen her-"

"That's enough, thanks!" And he flew rather than ran to Leonard's stable. He threw the saddle on Grise's back, leaped upon her, and galloped away in the direction of the woods of Chanteloube.

His heart was beating fast with anxiety and wrath, the perspiration rolled down his forehead. He covered Grise's sides with blood, although the mare, when she found that she was on the way to her stable, did not need to be urged to go at full speed.

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