Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Brotherly Love
By Jules Quesnay de Beaurepaire (1838–1923)
From ‘The Woodman’: Translation of Mrs. John Simpson
  [The poacher Renaud takes pity on the delicate, friendless orphan lad before mentioned, and cares for him as far as his scanty forest resources and wild life permit.]

THIS adoption transformed our hero. Every morning and evening, instead of eating with the methodical deliberation characteristic of the peasant, he hastened his meal to have time to clean up his home. He swept away the dust, rubbed up the metals, and put everything in order. He turned himself into a woman to make his little charge comfortable.  1
  When he reached the felling-place, with what a good heart he set to work! At the end of the week he was as keen as a miser after his pay. On Saturday evenings he came home by the town, in order to bring some fresh bread for the child, and almost always a beautiful sweetmeat tied on to a card, or even a red horse in barley-sugar. And how merrily he rubbed his hands when he opened the door! The urchin walked round him in delight, asking anxiously:—  2
  “Have you got anything for little Jacques?”  3
  “To be sure. Look in.”  4
  The Little Parisian felt in Jean’s pockets and wallet, and at length found the expected dainty, laughing and skipping round his big friend.  5
  On fine days they went together to the felling-place. The little fellow carried the gourd with the comical solemnity peculiar to children when they think they are of use. Renaud carried his tools, and learned to think aloud to amuse his boy. He tried to limp less; for every species of love has its coquettish desire to please. But Jacques was no longer aware of his friend’s infirmity,—thanks to habit, which had gradually turned what was at first a subject of astonishment into a matter of course. He would have been more likely to ask the other foresters why they did not limp like Jean.  6
  They ate their dinner in a wooden shelter, with their feet on the grass; and while the climber was felling his tree the Little Parisian roamed about, stirring the ants’ nests with a thin stick to see what would happen. On Sundays, when they left the cemetery, they went into the forest. Jean taught the child how to make a way for himself through the thicket with his arm. The little fellow learned with astonishing facility to share the tastes and habits of his guide. He loved the forest; its sounds, far from frightening him, were sweet in his ears as the voice of a friend. When spring came, it was wonderful to see his interest in every new flower.  7
  “You too like the covert?” the poacher asked, with some emotion.  8
  “Oh yes: it’s so amusing to run about in it,—one finds all sorts of things. I used to come sometimes with my ’Lanie, but not as far as this.”  9
  “The farther one goes, the more beautiful it seems.”  10
  “But, dear Jean, as you are so fond of the trees, why do you hurt them with your axe? You look quite angry when you hit at them.”  11
  “Oh no, I’m not angry. I’ve known those old fellows ever since I was born; and I love them, too; and when the wind whispers among them I can almost make out what the leaves are saying. But when I’ve got to strip one, and I see him standing up before me with his branches stretched out, he seems to say that I am too weakly. Then I get excited, and there’s a singing in my ears. Sometimes when I reach the top, the tree shakes with passion, like a horse shaking off a fly. Then I strike so hard that my heart beats; the branch hits my head in falling, and I strike still harder; I don’t know what I’m doing. But as soon as the top is down I’m sorry: the foot trembles so oddly one would think it was alive.”  12
  Jacques began to laugh: he was puzzled by a new idea.  13
  “Don’t laugh,” said Jean: “be sure there’s some life in their hearts. Look at my blouse: don’t the spots the bark makes look like blood? and when we put a green log on the fire, doesn’t it sob?”  14
  “Well, then, we mustn’t cut down any more trees.”  15
  “Nay, it’s a kindness to cut them down when they are stag-headed,—they would rot. And there are the young ones stifled underneath that want to get up. Every one must have his turn.”  16
  As they proceed, the child questions Renaud on all the life around them. The poacher knows his forest by heart; he can tell its stories, from the largest beech to the smallest insect.  17
  “What is it one hears in the hole in that tree?”  18
  “It’s a swarm of bees. We’ll smoke them out to-morrow, and you shall have the honey.”  19
  “And that bird with an acorn in its beak?”  20
  “That’s a jay. He’s collecting his provisions for the winter; but as he’s silly, he’ll forget where he puts them, and will starve with the rest.”  21
  “Have some creatures more sense than others?”  22
  “Yes: it’s just like us,—there are rascals and fools. Any one who notices their ways knows they understand.”  23
  “But they can’t talk like us?”  24
  “You may be sure that they make each other understand in their own way.”  25
  “And perhaps they’re not so bad as us, for they don’t want gendarmes.”  26
  This last word reminded the child of the poacher’s capture: ’Lanie’s father had so often talked about it before him. He longed to question his friend, hesitated—at last said:—  27
  “Tell me, Jean, is it true?”  28
  “What?”  29
  “Is it true that you had a sweetheart at Vibraye?”  30
  The climber turned as red as a cherry.  31
  “Stuff and nonsense! I’ve never set foot in the place.”  32
  “I believe you—but I’ve heard it said— But tell me, what’s the meaning of a sweetheart?”  33
  “I’ve never had one; but from what they say, it’s a sort of lass that one dances with at the assemblies, and takes home through the lanes, and kisses in the dusk.”  34
  “Did you ever meet any in the forest?”  35
  “No, never, because I get out of their way. Girls make too much noise with their chatter, and they make me feel quite silly when they fix their eyes on me. And then it’s a waste of time, for what’s the good of kissing the hussies?”  36
  “But you had other company in the forest, Renaud. I’m told you went there with—”  37
  “Little goose! with whom?”  38
  “With a gun.”  39
  Jean hung his head without answering.  40
  “Is it true? Oh, how I should have liked to see it. You haven’t got it any longer?”  41
  The poacher stammered out:—  42
  “Don’t ever talk about that. I have no gun.”  43
  “What a pity. I should have so liked to hear you make it say ‘Bang!’ We would have gone out together, and you would have shot some nice little creatures for me.”  44
  Jean Renaud trembled all over. He had left off poaching, in order to devote himself to the child. He feared danger now that he had become a father, and the spiders spun their webs undisturbed over the plank which concealed his gun. He had given up thinking about it. The child’s caresses had lulled the passion to sleep, and here was the boy awakening it! That gun is at home—actually under his hands. Oh, if he might take the good weapon out of its hiding-place, and aim at a bounding fawn, and smell powder once more! It all comes back to his memory; the fierce passion lights up again;—but no, the orphan has need of him; he must not be imprisoned now. He turns pale with the effort, but he masters himself.  45
  “Let’s be off,” he says sadly. “Those are all lies,—the gun was broken long ago.”  46
  The Little Parisian asked every Sunday to be taken farther into the forest; but he was too weak for so much fatigue. Renaud made for him a sort of wheelbarrow with long arms, like those the milkmaids use to carry their milk. He lined it thickly with grass, and insisted on his dear Jacques sitting in it when they went a long way. He wheeled it all along the paths, carefully avoiding the stones and ruts so as not to shake the child.  47
  “You will see quite as well,” he said, “and you won’t get tired.”  48
  Sometimes the little fellow, overcome by so much fresh air, would fall asleep in the midst of the woods. Renaud, his perception sharpened by love, would stop on some pretext or other; for it never does to tell a child he is sleepy. It was Jean, the indefatigable Jean, who complained of fatigue. He stretched himself, and said he wanted to go home.  49
  “Oh, I’m not a bit tired,” said Jacques, pouting. And his little eyes closed in spite of his efforts. Jean would rest the curly head softly on his shoulder, lifting the little sleeper carefully, carry him to the barrow, and wheel him slowly home.  50
  It was at this time that the forester learned to sew in order to mend the orphan’s clothes. As soon as the little blouse got torn in the brushwood, this man, whose tenderness made a woman of him, might be seen sitting outside his door, gravely and patiently using his needle with his awkward fingers. The white thread made strange figures on the mended hole. He was so busily engaged that he hardly gave himself time to breathe, he tried so hard to make his darn strong and neat. Often on a Sunday morning he was heard washing a child’s shirt in the river, beating it with a wooden beetle.  51
  The two companions lived in this way for about ten months. September had already reddened the first leaves of the maple. They met Mélanie’s father at the stone quarry. His manner was never very pleasant; this time he only answered curtly:—  52
  “Good-day.”  53
  “Are you going for a walk?”  54
  “Nay, I’m looking for my new spade that I’ve lost.”  55
  “Shall we lend a hand?”  56
  “I don’t care much for your company.”  57
  “And the child, won’t you speak to him?”  58
  “What should I say? I don’t admire the way you’re bringing him up.”  59
  “Really, do you want him to go into the saw-pit at his age?”  60
  “No—nonsense. I should like him to go to church. He’s been trusted to you, and you misuse him. But as your grandfather said before me, you’re more like a wolf than a man.”  61
  Renaud had never thought on the subject. The voices of the forest, and another voice within himself, had whispered to him that there was something greater than the woods and the woodcutters—up there where the stars were shining. But his faith, too abstract not to be vague, was not in any way connected with the Christian ceremonies, which he did not understand. His aspirations were religious, but ignorantly unbelieving when he tried to reason.  62
  “I think I should be bored in heaven,” he used to say, “as they have nothing to do but sit still and sing psalms. I’d rather roam about in the woods.”  63
  “’Lanie would have taken the boy to church,” resumed the old man, “and when he was old enough, to confirmation. You are no better than an arquelier.”  64
  An arquelier means a mischievous vagabond. It is evidently a contemptuous diminutive of the word arquebusier, and has remained in use among our country-folk ever since the Middle Ages, when the peasantry suffered from the depredations of the hired soldiery.  65
  “I don’t hold much to such devout folks,” retorted Renaud. “Isn’t every one free to do what he thinks right? But wherever Mélanie would have taken the boy I’ll take him.”  66
  From that day he took the Little Parisian every Sunday to mass. The two were to be seen standing, silent and motionless, at the entrance near the font. When the priest went up into the pulpit to preach, Jean coughed and spit in imitation of other people; the rest of the time he was perfectly quiet. When the blessed bread was distributed, he put his piece carefully into his cap, to give it to the little one when they left the church.  67
  Jacques generally stood on tiptoe, looking into the choir. Jean remarked this, and looked in the same direction; but saw nothing except the schoolboys ranged in parallel lines, with the schoolmaster at their head. When the mass was over, the little band went out in single file, with a formidable clattering of sabots. Some pushed those in front or overturned a chair by mistake, then hid their mouths with their sleeves to laugh without noise.  68
  “What were you looking at just now, Jacques? You were quite absorbed.”  69
  “The schoolboys and the gentleman in spectacles.”  70
  “There’s nothing curious in them. In old times I too used to go to school. I found it very tiresome.”  71
  “I shouldn’t find it tiresome. Can you read, Jean?”  72
  “Not a word. What’s the good?”  73
  “To know about things. They say that books explain all sorts of nice things.”  74
  The climber shrugged his shoulders. But every time they met the schoolboys, Jacques looked at them with envy and talked of books with regret.  75
  “You want, then, to be a scholar?”  76
  “Yes, to be sure, dear Jean. I should be ever so glad to learn.”  77
  Renaud considered that the expense would be small, and that the child would be better at school in bad weather than all alone in the woods.  78
  “Well, then, we’ll put you to school.”  79
  He took the boy, eager and joyful, to the same master who had been the bugbear of his childhood.  80
  “No offense, Jean Renaud,” said the latter—“but I hope the little fellow will not be as slow as you were.”  81
  “Well now, master, boys are not all alike. This boy is clever. I never was. No offense—but I never was so bored in my life as when I was with you.”  82
  “All right: and is this little man your brother?”  83
  Renaud replied, shyly and sadly:—  84
  “Jacques was Mélanie’s nursling.”  85
  The good man asked no more questions; and the Little Parisian joined the class on the next day.  86
  Renaud watched tenderly over the little scholar. He bought no winter waistcoat for himself, in order that Jacques might have a new suit of clothes. He washed his hands and face carefully every morning. The little wallet was filled with provisions to last all day. Jean made an enormous round to take the child half-way to school before going to his work. When he left him the little chap walked very steadily for fear of tearing his new blouse, and once in school astonished the master by his intelligence. And in the evening what a pleasure it was to follow the shady paths, and join his big brother in the midst of the forest, and then both go home by a short cut! When there, one would light the fire and the other set on the soup; then they pricked two lovely apples, and watched them frothing in the cinders.  87
  Next year, when the Little Parisian had learned to read, Jean became uneasy.  88
  “This boy’s too clever for me. I fancy hell get tired of my company.”  89
  And he tried to think of something, besides providing for physical wants, to amuse his little companion. His unselfishness led him even to leave the forest, to frequent the fêtes in neighboring towns. He lifted the boy on to the merry-go-rounds, when the wooden horses turned slowly to the sound of a hand-organ; made him take shares in lotteries for macaroons and wine-glasses. They witnessed the rough sports of the young farmers, who drank all the more when they were not thirsty, and whose wit consisted in pinching the waists of the girls and making them scream without being found out. Vehicles filled with whole families drove in, raising a terrible dust. The violin squeaked in the place marked out by ropes for dancing. The dentist “from Paris,” established with great pomp on his unhorsed carriage, a huge case of instruments in the front, held firmly on the seat a peasant adorned with a swelled face, and informed the public that he was going to extract the tooth with the same instrument that he used for crowned heads. At a little distance long tables were spread under sheds, charged with cider and strong-smelling drinks. The landlord’s assistant had to make way with his elbows to the billiard table, to separate two sabot-makers who were settling a doubtful game with a fight.  90
  “Do you enjoy the fun, my little Jacques?” said Renaud, trying to look delighted.  91
  “On the contrary, I am bored to death. My head aches, and I feel sick. I like the forest ever so much better.”  92
  But there were also fêtes in the forest. There they felt at home, and Renaud took his little friend to all of them.  93
  First, there was gathering the lilies-of-the-valley about Ascension Day. The fields are celebrated for their profusion from Grez to St. Agert. Gentle and simple alike love these sweet flowers, whose milky whiteness gleams in the shade, against the deep green of their pointed leaves. All the idle population of the neighboring towns crowds the forest in the charming season when the lilies burst into flower. The woods change their aspect. Young men from town arrive with their great-coats under their arms; young ladies sing in high soprano voices the romances of Louisa Puget; some young men are exchanging words of love with their sweethearts, others pursuing the objects of their fancy. In the evening, nosegays pass from hand to hand. The mothers follow, large and imposing, their caps adorned with artificial flowers, the strings floating in the breeze. Greasy papers cover the ground in open spaces. One hears the bottles knock against each other in the baskets carried by means of a walking-stick passed through the handles by some happy couple.  94
  On the Fête of St. Louis (August 15th) the nutting begins. The strangers come again, and once more fill the forest with noisy merriment. The nuts in their hairy envelopes cover the branches. The draper’s wife has stuffed her pockets with them; the policeman has filled his basket. The priest’s nephew, a corporal on leave, strikes them down with a quarter-staff; the collector’s wife uses her yellow parasol to bend down the branches. Some of the young men get excited, and challenge each other to a gymnastic bout. Elsewhere they are dancing in a ring. No one but the barber, who was formerly a waiter in Courbevoie, refuses to take part, and replies scornfully, “I only care for regular dances.”  95
  The Little Parisian draws his friend on one side.  96
  “I don’t care for this either: let’s be off, brother.”  97
  “My darling, you love the real forest, then, as much as I do?”  98
  “Yes, I do love it. But you don’t know how I wish that what the people said was true—that dear Jean had a gun, and we could hunt the game together.”  99
  Renaud the Poacher trembled.  100
  What! again this longing! How often has he cherished it himself during the two years they have lived together!  101
  “What are you talking about?” he broke out: “are you mad? My gun? I swear it’s broken; but why—why are you always thinking of sport?”  102
  The Little Parisian looks dreamily up at the green vault over his head; he inhales the scent of the woods; he has all sorts of wild thoughts. The mysterious thicket attracts him; he begins to understand why he loves the Chemins-Verts. He replies:—  103
  “I don’t know if I am thinking of sport, but I long to get deeper and deeper into the forest, to watch all that goes on, to catch the birds on the wing.”  104
  The dead leaves lay in heaps on the path, the wind had blown them into ridges like the waves of the sea. He stepped over them proudly, and threw back his head, thrilling with youthful excitement, and exclaimed:—  105
  “The forest is ours! this delicious air is ours!”  106
  Renaud saw himself in this enthusiastic child.  107

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