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   Chapter 18 THE LIVRéES

The Devil's Pool By George Sand Characters: 13126

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


When everybody was assembled in the house, the doors and windows were closed and fastened with the greatest care; they even barricaded the loop-hole in the attic; they placed boards, trestles, stumps, and tables across all the issues as if they were preparing to sustain a siege; and there was the solemn silence of suspense in that fortified interior until they heard in the distance singing and laughing, and the notes of the rustic instruments. It was the bridegroom's contingent, Germain at the head, accompanied by his stoutest comrades, by his relations, friends, and servants and the grave-digger,-a substantial, joyous procession.

But, as they approached the house, they slackened their pace, took counsel together, and became silent. The maidens, shut up in the house, had arranged little cracks at the windows, through which they watched them march up and form in battle-array. A fine, cold rain was falling, and added to the interest of the occasion, while a huge fire was crackling on the hearth inside. Marie would have liked to abridge the inevitable tedious length of this formal siege; she did not like to see her lover catching cold, but she had no voice in the council under the circumstances, and, indeed, she was expected to join, ostensibly, in the mischievous cruelty of her companions.

When the two camps were thus confronted, a discharge of fire-arms without created great excitement among all the dogs in the neighborhood. Those of the household rushed to the door barking vociferously, thinking that a real attack was in progress, and the small children, whom their mothers tried in vain to reassure, began to tremble and cry. The whole scene was so well played that a stranger might well have been deceived by it and have considered the advisability of preparing to defend himself against a band of brigands.

Thereupon, the grave-digger, the bridegroom's bard and orator, took his place in front of the door, and, in a lugubrious voice, began the following dialogue with the hemp-beater, who was stationed at the small round window above the same door:

THE GRAVE-DIGGER.

Alas! my good people, my dear parishioners, for the love of God open the door.

THE HEMP-BEATER.

Who are you, pray, and why do you presume to call us your dear parishioners? We do not know you.

THE GRAVE-DIGGER.

We are honest folk in sore distress. Be not afraid of us, my friends! receive us hospitably. The rain freezes as it falls, our poor feet are frozen, and we have come such a long distance that our shoes are split.

THE HEMP-BEATER.

If your shoes are split, you can look on the ground; you will surely find osier withes to make arcelets [little strips of iron in the shape of bows, with which shoes (wooden) were mended].

THE GRAVE-DIGGER.

Osier arcelets are not very strong. You are making sport of us, good people, and you would do better to open the door to us. We can see the gleam of a noble blaze within your house; doubtless the spit is in place, and your hearts and your stomachs are rejoicing together. Open, then, to poor pilgrims, who will die at your door if you do not have mercy on them.

THE HEMP-BEATER.

Aha! you are pilgrims? you did not tell us that. From what pilgrimage are you returning, by your leave?

THE GRAVE-DIGGER.

We will tell you that when you have opened the door, for we come from so far away that you would not believe it.

THE HEMP-BEATER.

Open the door to you? indeed! we should not dare trust you. Let us see: are you from Saint-Sylvain de Pouligny?

THE GRAVE-DIGGER.

We have been to Saint-Sylvain de Pouligny, but we have been farther than that.

THE HEMP-BEATER.

Then you have been as far as Sainte-Solange?

THE GRAVE-DIGGER.

We have been to Sainte-Solange, for sure; but we have been farther still.

THE HEMP-BEATER.

You lie; you have never been as far as Sainte-Solange.

THE GRAVE-DIGGER.

We have been farther, for we have just returned from Saint-Jacques de Compostelle.

THE HEMP-BEATER.

What foolish tale are you telling us? We don't know that parish. We see plainly enough that you are bad men, brigands, nobodies, liars. Go somewhere else and sing your silly songs; we are on our guard, and you won't get in here.

THE GRAVE-DIGGER.

Alas! my dear man, have pity on us! We are not pilgrims, as you have rightly guessed; but we are unfortunate poachers pursued by the keepers. The gendarmes are after us, too, and, if you don't let us hide in your hay-loft, we shall be caught and taken to prison.

THE HEMP-BEATER.

But what proof have we this time that you are what you say? for here is one falsehood already that you could not follow up.

THE GRAVE-DIGGER.

If you will open the door, we will show you a fine piece of game we have killed.

THE HEMP-BEATER.

Show it now, for we are suspicious.

THE GRAVE-DIGGER.

Well, open a door or a window, so that we can pass in the creature.

THE HEMP-BEATER.

Oh! nay, nay! not such fools! I'm looking at you through a little hole, and I see neither hunters nor game.

At that point, a drover's boy, a thick-set youth of herculean strength, came forth from the group in which he had been standing unnoticed, and held up toward the window a goose all plucked and impaled on a stout iron spit, decorated with bunches of straw and ribbons.

"Hoity-toity!" cried the hemp-beater, after he had cautiously put out an arm to feel the bird; "that's not a quail or a partridge, a hare or a rabbit; it looks like a goose or a turkey. Upon my word, you are noble hunters! and that game did not make you ride very fast. Go elsewhere, my knaves! all your falsehoods are detected, and you may as well go home and cook your supper. You won't eat ours."

THE GRAVE-DIGGER.

Alas! mon Dieu! where shall we go to have our game cooked? it's very little among so many of us; and, besides, we have no fire nor place to go to. At this time of night, every door is closed, everybody has gone to bed; you are the only ones who are having a wedding-feast in your house, and you must be very hardhearted to leave us to freeze outside. Once more, good people, let us in; we won't cause you any expense. You see we bring our own food; only a little space at your fireside, a little fire to cook it, and we will go hence satisfied.

THE HEMP-BEATER.

Do you think that we have any too much room, and that wood costs nothing?

THE GRAVE-DIGGER.

We have a little bundle of straw to make a fire with, we will be satisfied with it; only give us leave to place the spit acros

s your fire-place.

THE HEMP-BEATER.

We will not do it; you arouse disgust, not pity, in us. It's my opinion that you are drank, that you need nothing, and that you simply want to get into our house to steal our fire and our daughters.

THE GRAVE-DIGGER.

As you refuse to listen to any good reason, we propose to force our way into your house.

THE HEMP-BEATER.

Try it, if you choose. We are so well protected that we need not fear you. You are insolent knaves, too, and we won't answer you any more.

Thereupon, the hemp-beater closed the window-shutter with a great noise, and went down to the lower room by a ladder. Then he took the bride by the hand, the young people of both sexes joined them, and they all began to dance and utter joyous exclamations, while the matrons sang in piercing tones and indulged in loud peals of laughter in token of their scorn and defiance of those who were attempting an assault without.

The besiegers, on their side, raged furiously together: they discharged their pistols against the doors, made the dogs growl, pounded on the walls, rattled the shutters, and uttered terror-inspiring yells; in short, there was such an uproar that you could not hear yourself talk, such a dust and smoke that you could not see yourself.

The attack was a mere pretence, however: the moment had not come to violate the laws of etiquette. If they could succeed, by prowling about the house, in finding an unguarded passage, any opening whatsoever, they could try to gain an entrance by surprise, and then, if the bearer of the spit succeeded in placing his bird in front of the fire, that constituted a taking possession of the hearth-stone, the comedy was at an end, and the bridegroom was victor.

But the entrances to the house were not so numerous that they were likely to have neglected the usual precautions, and no one would have assumed the right to employ violence before the moment fixed for the conflict.

When they were weary of jumping about and shouting, the hemp-beater meditated a capitulation. He went back to his window, opened it cautiously, and hailed the discomfited besiegers with a roar of laughter:

"Well, my boys," he said, "you're pretty sheepish, aren't you? You thought that nothing could be easier than to break in here, and you have discovered that our defences are strong. But we are beginning to have pity on you, if you choose to submit and accept our conditions."

THE GRAVE-DIGGER.

Speak, my good friends; tell us what we must do to be admitted to your fireside.

THE HEMP-BEATER.

You must sing, my friends, but sing some song that we don't know, and that we can't answer with a better one.

"Never you fear!" replied the grave-digger, and he sang in a powerful voice:

"'Tis six months since the spring-time,"

"When I walked upon the springing grass," replied the hemp-beater, in a somewhat hoarse but awe-inspiring voice. "Are you laughing at us, my poor fellows, that you sing us such old trash? you see that we stop you at the first word."

"It was a prince's daughter-"

"And she would married be" replied the hemp-beater. "Go on, go on to another! we know that a little too well."

THE GRAVE-DIGGER.

What do you say to this:

"When from Nantes I was returning-"

THE HEMP-BEATER.

"I was weary, do you know! oh! so weary." That's a song of my grandmother's day. Give us another one.

THE GRAVE-DIGGER.

"The other day as I was walking-"

THE HEMP-BEATER.

"Along by yonder charming wood!" That's a silly one! Our grandchildren wouldn't take the trouble to answer you! What! are those all you know?

THE GRAVE-DIGGER.

Oh! we'll sing you so many of them, that you will end by stopping short.

Fully an hour was passed in this contest. As the two combatants were the most learned men in the province in the matter of ballads, and as their repertory seemed inexhaustible, it might well have lasted all night, especially as the hemp-beater seemed to take malicious pleasure in allowing his opponent to sing certain laments in ten, twenty, or thirty stanzas, pretending by his silence to admit that he was defeated. Thereupon, there was triumph in the bridegroom's camp, they sang in chorus at the tops of their voices, and every one believed that the adverse party would make default; but when the final stanza was half finished, the old hemp-beater's harsh, hoarse voice would bellow out the last words; whereupon he would shout: "You don't need to tire yourselves out by singing such long ones, my children! We have them at our fingers' ends!"

Once or twice, however, the hemp-beater made a wry face, drew his eyebrows together, and turned with a disappointed air toward the observant matrons. The grave-digger was singing something so old that his adversary had forgotten it, or perhaps had never known it; but the good dames instantly sang the victorious refrain through their noses, in tones as shrill as those of the sea-gull; and the grave-digger, summoned to surrender, passed to something else.

It would have been too long to wait until one side or the other won the victory. The bride's party announced that they would show mercy on condition that the others should offer her a gift worthy of her.

Thereupon, the song of the livrées began, to an air as solemn as a church chant.

The men outside sang in unison:

"Ouvrez la porte, ouvrez,

Marie, ma mignonne,

J'ons de beaux cadeaux à vous présenter.

Hélas! ma mie, laissez-nous entrer."[3]

To which the women replied from the interior, in falsetto, in doleful tones:

"Mon père est en chagrin, ma mère en grand' tristesse,

Et moi je suis fille de trop grand' merci

Pour ouvrir ma porte à cette heure ici."[4]

The men repeated the first stanza down to the fourth line, which they modified thus:

"J'ons un beau mouchoir à vous présenter."[5]

But the women replied, in the name of the bride, in the same words as before.

Through twenty stanzas, at least, the men enumerated all the gifts in the livrée, always mentioning a new article in the last verse: a beautiful devanteau,-apron,-lovely ribbons, a cloth dress, lace, a gold cross, even to a hundred pins to complete the bride's modest outfit. The matrons invariably refused; but at last the young men decided to mention a handsome husband to offer, and they replied by addressing the bride, and singing to her with the men:

"Ouvrez la porte, ouvrez,

Marie, ma mignonne,

C'est un beau man qui vient vous chercher.

Allons, ma mie, laissons-les entrer."[6]

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