They called her La Morillonne1 because of her black hair and of her complexion, which resembled autumnal leaves, and because of her mouth with thick purple lips, which were like blackberries, when she curled them.
1 Black Grapes.]
That she should be born as dark as this in a district where everybody was fair, and engendered by a father and mother with tow-colored hair and a complexion like butter was one of the mysteries of atavism. One of her female ancestors must have had an intimacy with one of those traveling tinkers who, have gone about the country from time immemorial, with faces the color of bistre and indigo, crowned by a wisp of light hair.
From that ancestor she derived, not only her dark complexion, but also her dark soul, her deceitful eyes, whose depths were at times illuminated by flashes of every vice, her eyes of an obstinate and malicious animal.
Handsome? Certainly not, nor even pretty. Ugly, with an absolute ugliness! Such a false look! Her nose was flat, and had been smashed by a blow, while her unwholesome looking mouth was always slobbering with greediness, or uttering something vile. Her hair was thick and untidy, and a regular nest for vermin, to which may be added a thin, feverish body, with a limping walk. In short, she was a perfect monster, and yet all the young men of the neighborhood had made love to her, and whoever had been so honored, longed for her society again.
From the time that she was twelve, she had been the mistress of every fellow in the village. She had corrupted boys of her own age in every conceivable manner and place.
Young men at the risk of imprisonment, and even steady, old, notable and venerable men, such as the farmer at Eclausiaux, Monsieur Martin, the ex-mayor and other highly respectable men, had been taken by the manners of that creature, and the reason why the rural policeman was not severe upon them, in spite of his love for summoning people before the magistrates, was, so people said, that he would have been obliged to take out a summons against himself.
The consequence was that she had grown up without being interfered with, and was the mistress of every fellow in the village, as the school-master said; who had himself been one of the fellows. But the most curious part of the business was that no one was jealous. They handed her on from one to the other, and when someone expressed his astonishment at this to her one day, she said to this unintelligent stranger:
“Is everybody not satisfied?”
And then, how could any one of them, even if he had been jealous, have monopolized her? They had no hold on her. She was not selfish, and though she accepted all gifts, whether in kind or in money, she never asked for anything and she even appeared to prefer paying herself after her own fashion, by stealing. All she seemed to care about as her reward was pilfering, and a crown put into her hand, gave her less pleasure than a halfpenny which she had stolen. Neither was it any use to dream of ruling her as the sole male, or as the proud master of the hen roost, for which of them, no matter how broad shouldered he was, would have been capable of it? Some had tried to vanquish her, but in vain.
How then, could any of them claim to be her master? It would have been the same as wishing to have the sole right of baking their bread in the common oven, in which the whole village baked.
But there was one man who formed the exception, and that was Bru, the shepherd.
He lived in the fields in his movable hut, on cakes made of unleavened dough, which he kneaded on a stone and baked in the hot ashes, now here, now there, is a hole dug out in the ground, and heated with dead wood. Potatoes, milk, hard cheese, blackberries, and a small cask of old gin that he had distilled himself, were his daily pittance; but he knew nothing about love, although he was accused of all sorts of horrible things, and therefore nobody dared abuse him to his face; in the first place, because Bru was a spare and sinewy man, who handled his shepherd’s crook like a drum-major does his staff; next, because of his three sheep dogs, who had teeth like wolves, and who knew nobody except their master; and lastly, for fear of the evil eye. For Bru, it appeared, knew spells which would blight the corn, give the sheep foot rot, the cattle the rinder pest, make cows die in calving, and set fire to the ricks and stacks.
But as Bru was the only one who did not loll out his tongue after La Morillonne, naturally one day she began to think of him, and she declared that she, at any rate, was not afraid of his evil eye, and so she went after him.
“What do you want?” he said, and she replied boldly:
“What do I want? I want you.”
“Very well,” he said, “but then you must belong to me alone.”
“All right,” was her answer, “if you think you can please me.”
He smiled and took her into his arms, and she was away from the village for a whole week. She had, in fact, become entirely Bru’s exclusive property.
The village grew excited. They were not jealous of each other, but they were of him. What! Could she not resist him. Of course he had charms and spells against every imaginable thing. And they grew furious. Next they grew bold, and watched from behind a tree. She was still as lively as ever, but he, poor fellow, seemed to have become suddenly ill, and required the most tender nursing at her hands. The villagers, however, felt no compassion for the poor shepherd, and so, one of them, more courageous than the rest, advanced towards the hut with his gun in his hand:
“Tie up your dogs,” he cried out from a distance; “fasten them up, Bru, or I shall shoot them.”
“You need not be frightened of the dogs,” La Morillonne replied; “I will be answerable for it that they will not hurt you;” and she smiled as the young man with the gun went towards her.
“What do you want?” the shepherd said.
“I can tell you,” she replied. “He wants me and I am very willing. There!”
Bru began to cry, and she continued:
“You are a good for nothing.”
And she went off with the lad, while Bru seized his crook, seeing which the young fellow raised his gun.
“Seize him! seize him!” the shepherd shouted, urging on his dogs, while the other had already got his finger on the trigger to fire at them. But La Morillonne pushed down the muzzle and called out:
“Here, dogs! here! Prr, prr, my beauties!”
And the three dogs rushed up to her, licked her hands and frisked about as they followed her, while she called to the shepherd from the distance:
“You see, Bru, they are not at all jealous!”
And then, with a short and evil laugh, she added:
“They are my property now.”
Last updated Saturday, January 23, 2016 at 13:40