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   Chapter 14 THE OLD WOMAN

The Devil's Pool By George Sand Characters: 9616

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Germain soon found himself at the spot on the edge of the pool where he had passed the night. The fire was still smoking; an old woman was picking up what was left of the dead wood Marie had collected. Germain stopped to question her. She was deaf, and misunderstood his questions.

"Yes, my boy," she said, "this is the Devil's Pool. It's a bad place, and you mustn't come near it without throwing three stones in with your left hand and crossing yourself with your right: that drives away the spirits. Unless they do that, misfortune comes to those who walk around it."

"I didn't ask you about that," said Germain, drawing nearer to her and shouting at the top of his voice: "Haven't you seen a girl and a young child going through the woods?"

"Yes," said the old woman, "there was a small child drowned there!"

Germain shivered from head to foot; but luckily the old woman added:

"That was a long, long while ago; they put up a beautiful cross; but on a fine stormy night the evil spirits threw it into the water. You can still see one end of it. If any one had the bad luck to stop here at night, he would be very sure not to be able to go away before dawn. It would do him no good to walk, walk: he might travel two hundred leagues through the woods and find himself still in the same place."-The ploughman's imagination was impressed, do what he would, by what he heard, and the idea of the misfortune which might follow, to justify the remainder of the old woman's assertions, took such complete possession of his brain that he felt cold all over his body. Despairing of obtaining any additional information, he mounted his horse and began to ride through the woods, calling Pierre at the top of his voice, whistling, cracking his whip, breaking off branches to fill the forest with the noise of his progress, then listening to see if any voice answered; but he heard naught but the bells on the cows scattered among the bushes, and the fierce grunting of pigs fighting over the acorns.

At last, Germain heard behind him the footsteps of a horse following in his track, and a man of middle age, swarthy, robust, dressed like a semi-bourgeois, shouted to him to stop. Germain had never seen the farmer of Ormeaux; but an angry instinct led him to determine at once that it was he. He turned, and, eyeing him from head to foot, waited to hear what he had to say to him.

"Haven't you seen a young girl of fifteen or sixteen, with a little boy, pass this way?" said the farmer, affecting an indifferent manner, although he was visibly moved.

"What do you want of her?" demanded Germain, not seeking to disguise his indignation.

"I might tell you that that was none of your business, my friend, but as I have no reason to hide it, I will tell you that she's a shepherdess I hired for the year without knowing her.-When she came to the farm, she seemed to me too young and not strong enough for the work. I thanked her, but I insisted on paying her what her little journey had cost; and she went off in a rage while my back was turned.-She was in such a hurry that she even forgot part of her things and her purse, which hasn't very much in it, to be sure; a few sous, I suppose!-but as I had business in this direction, I thought I might meet her and give her what she forgot and what I owe her."

Germain was too honest a soul not to hesitate when he heard that story, which was possible at least, if not very probable. He fixed a piercing gaze on the farmer, who bore his scrutiny with much impudence or else with perfect innocence.

"I want to have a clear conscience," said Germain to himself, and, restraining his indignation, he continued aloud:

"She's a girl from our neighborhood; I know her: she must be somewhere about here. Let us go on together-we shall find her, I've no doubt."

"You are right," said the farmer. "Let's go on-but, if we don't find her at the end of the path, I give it up-for I must take the Ardentes road."

"Oho!" thought the ploughman, "I won't leave you! even if I should have to twist around the Devil's Pool with you for twenty-four hours!"

"Stay!" said Germain suddenly, fixing his eyes on a clump of furze which was moving back and forth in a peculiar way: "holà! holà! Petit-Pierre, my child, is that you?"

The child, recognizing his father's voice, leaped out of the bushes like a kid, but when he saw that he was with the farmer, he stopped as if in terror, and stood still, uncertain what to do.

"Come, my Pierre, come, it's me!" cried the ploughman, riding toward him and leaping down from his horse to take him in his arms: "and where's little Marie?"

"She's hiding there, because she's afraid of that bad black man, and so am I."

"Oh! don't you be afraid; I am here-Marie! Marie! it's me!"

Marie came craw

ling out from the bushes, and as soon as she saw Germain, whom the farmer was following close, she ran and threw herself into his arms; and, clinging to him like a daughter to her father, she exclaimed:

"Ah! my good Germain, you will defend me; I'm not afraid with you."

Germain shuddered. He looked at Marie: she was pale, her clothes were torn by the brambles through which she had run, seeking the thickest underbrush, like a doe with the hunters on her track. But there was neither despair nor shame on her face.

"Your master wants to speak to you," he said, still watching her features.

"My master?" she said proudly; "that man is not my master and never will be!-You are my master, you, Germain. I want you to take me back with you-will work for you for nothing!"

The farmer had ridden forward, feigning some impatience.

"Ah! little one," he said, "you forgot something which I have brought you."

"No, no, monsieur," replied little Marie, "I didn't forget anything, and there's nothing I want to ask you for-"

"Hark ye a minute," said the farmer, "I have something to say to you!-Come!-don't be afraid-just two words."

"You can say them out loud. I have no secrets with you."

"Come and get your money, at least."

"My money? You don't owe me anything, thank God!"

"I suspected as much," said Germain in an undertone; "but never mind, Marie, listen to what he has to say to you-for, for my part, I am curious to find out. You can tell me afterward: I have my reasons for that. Go beside his horse-I won't lose sight of you."

Marie took three steps toward the farmer, who said to her, leaning forward on the pommel of his saddle, and lowering his voice:

"Here's a bright louis-d'or for you, little one! you won't say anything, understand? I'll say that I concluded you weren't strong enough for the work on my farm.-And don't let anything more be said about it. I'll come and see you again one of these days, and if you haven't said anything, I'll give you something else. And then, if you're more reasonable, you'll only have to say the word: I will take you home with me, or else come and talk with you in the pasture at dusk. What present shall I bring you?"

"There is my gift to you, monsieur!" replied little Marie aloud, throwing his louis-d'or in his face with no gentle hand. "I thank you very much, and I beg you to let me know beforehand when you are coming our way: all the young men in my neighborhood will turn out to receive you, because our people are very fond of bourgeois who try to make love to poor girls! You'll see, they'll be on the lookout for you!"

"You're a liar and a silly babbler!" said the farmer in a rage, raising his stick threateningly. "You'd like to make people believe what isn't true, but you won't get any money out of me: I know your kind!"

Marie had recoiled in terror; but Germain darted to the farmer's horse's head, seized the rein, and shook it vigorously:

"I understand now!" he said, "and I see plainly enough what the trouble was. Dismount! my man! come down and let us have a talk!"

The farmer was by no means anxious to take a hand in the game: he spurred his horse in order to free himself, and tried to strike the ploughman's hands with his stick and make him relax his hold; but Germain eluded the blow, and, taking him by the leg, unhorsed him and brought him to the heather, where he knocked him down, although the farmer was soon upon his feet again and defended himself sturdily.

Chapter XIV

Marie had recoiled in terror; but Germain darted to the farmer's horse's head, seized the rein, and shook it vigorously.

"Coward!" said Germain, when he had him beneath him, "I could break every bone in your body if I chose! But I don't like to harm anybody, and besides, no punishment would mend your conscience. However, you shan't stir from this spot until you have asked this girl's pardon on your knees."

The farmer, who was familiar with affairs of that sort, tried to turn it off as a joke. He claimed that his offence was not so very serious, as it consisted only in words, and said that he was willing to beg the girl's pardon, on condition that he might kiss her and that they should all go and drink a pint of wine at the nearest inn and part good friends.

"You disgust me!" replied Germain, pressing his face against the ground, "and I long to see the last of your ugly face. There, blush if you can, and you had better take the road of the affronteux[2] when you come to our town."

He picked up the farmer's holly staff, broke it across his knee to show the strength of his wrists, and threw the pieces away with a contemptuous gesture.

Then, taking his son's hand in one of his, and little Marie's in the other, he walked away, trembling with indignation.

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