AT the end of fifteen minutes they had left the heath behind them. They trotted along the high road, and the grey whinnied at each familiar object. Petit-Pierre told his father as much as he could understand of what had passed.
When we reached the farm, said he, that man came to speak to my Marie in the fold where we had gone to see the pretty sheep. I had climbed into the manger to play, and that man did not see me. Then he said good morning to Marie, and he kissed her.
I thought it was a civility, a custom of the place to newcomers, just as at your farm the grandmother kisses the young girls who enter her service to show that she adopts them and will be a mother to them.
And next, went on little Pierre, who was proud to have an adventure to tell of, that man told you something wicked, which you have told me never to repeat and not even remember; so I forgot it right away. Still, if father wishes, I will tell him what it was
Then I will forget it all over again, replied the child. Next, that man seemed to be growing angry because Marie told him that she was going away. He told her he would give her whatever she wanteda hundred francs! And my Marie grew angry too. Then he came toward her as if he wished to hurt her. I was afraid, and I ran to Marie and cried. Then that man said: Whats that? Where did that child come from? Put it out, and he raised his cane to beat me. But my Marie prevented him, and she spoke to him this way: We will talk later, sir; now I must take this child back to Fourche, and then I shall return. And as soon as he had left the fold, my Marie spoke to me this way: We must run, my Pierre; we must get away as quickly as we can, for this is a wicked man and he is trying to do us harm. Then when we had gone back of the farmhouses, we crossed a little meadow, and we went to Fourche to find you. But you were not there, and they wouldnt let us wait. And then that man, riding his black horse, came behind us, and we ran on as fast as we could and hid in the woods. And then he followed us, and when we heard him coming, we hid again. And then, when he had passed, we began to run toward home, and then you came and found us, and that is how it all happened. I havent forgotten anything, have I, my Marie?
And, Marie, I want to ask of you whether a man of twenty-eight is too old when there is a woman to be defended and an insult to be revenged. I should like to know whether Bastien or any other pretty boy, ten years better off than I, would not have been knocked to pieces by that man, as Petit-Pierre says. What do you think?
The childs promise set Germain to thinking. He must explain his conduct to his family and give his objections to the widow Guérin, and all the while conceal the true reasons which had made him so judicious and so decided. When a man is proud and happy, it seems an easy task to thrust his happiness upon others, but to be repulsed on one side and blamed on the other is not a very pleasant position.
Fortunately, Petit-Pierre was fast asleep when they reached the farm, and Germain put him to bed undisturbed. Then he began upon all sorts of explanations. Father Maurice, seated on a three-legged stool before the door, listened with gravity; and, although he was ill-content with the result of the journey, when Germain told him about the widows systematic coquetry, and demanded of his father-in-law whether he had the time to go and pay his court fifty-two Sundays in the year at the risk of being dismissed in the end, the old man nodded his head in assent and answered: You were not wrong, Germain; that could never be. And then, when Germain described how he had been obliged to bring back little Marie, with the utmost haste, in order to protect her from the insults or perhaps from the violence of a wicked master, Father Maurice nodded approvingly again and said: You were not wrong, Germain, that was right.
When Germain had told his story, and had set forth all his reasons, the old farmer and his wife heaved deep, simultaneous sighs of resignation, and looked at each other. Then the head of the house rose and said: Gods will be done. Love cant be made to order.
There was no more noise at the house, and on the morrow, when Petit-Pierre rose with the larks at dawn, he was no longer excited by the extraordinary events of the preceding days. Like other little peasants of his age, he became indifferent, forgot everything that had been running in his head, and thought only of playing with his brothers, and of pretending to drive the horses and oxen like a man.
Germain plunged into his work, and tried to forget, too; but he became so absent-minded and so sad that everybody noticed it. He never spoke to little Marie, he never even looked at her, and yet had anybody asked him in what meadow she was, or by what road she had passed, there was not a moment in the day when he could not have answered if he would. He dared not ask his family to take her in at the farm during the winter, and yet he knew well how she must suffer from want. But she did not suffer; and Mother Guillette could not understand how her little store of wood never grew less, and how her shed was full in the morning, although she had left it almost empty at night. It was the same with the wheat and potatoes. Somebody entered by the garret window, and emptied a sack on the floor without awaking a soul or leaving a trace of his coming. The widow was at once uneasy and delighted. She made her daughter promise to tell nobody, and said that were people to know of the miracle performed at her house they would take her for a witch. She felt confident that the devil had a share in it, but she was in no hurry to pick a quarrel with him by calling down the priests exorcisms on the house. It would be time enough, she said, when Satan should come to demand her soul in return for his gifts.