ONE day, Mother Maurice was alone in the orchard with Germain, and spoke to him kindly:
“My poor son, I believe you are not well. You don’t eat as well as usual; you never laugh; you talk less and less. Perhaps one of us, or all of us, have hurt your feelings, without knowing and without wishing it.”
“No, my mother,” answered Germain, “you have always been as kind to me as the mother who brought me into the world, and I should be very ungrateful if I were to complain of you or your husband, or of anybody in the household.”
“Then, my child, it is the sorrow for your wife’s death which comes back to you. Instead of growing lighter with time, your grief becomes worse, and as your father has said very wisely, it is absolutely necessary for you to marry again.”
“Yes, my mother, that is my opinion, but the women whom you advised me to ask don’t suit me. Whenever I see them, instead of forgetting my Catherine, I think of her all the more.”
“Apparently that ‘s because we have n’t been able to understand your taste. You must help us by telling us the truth. There must be a woman somewhere who is made for you, for God does n’t make anybody without placing his happiness in somebody else. So if you know where to find this woman whom you need, take her, and be she pretty or ugly, young or old, rich or poor, we have made up our minds, my husband and I, to give our consent, for we are tired of seeing you so sad, and we can never be happy while you are sorrowful.”
“My mother, you are as kind as the kind Lord, and so is my father,” answered Germain; “but your compassion brings small help to my troubles, for the girl I love does n’t care for me.”
“She is too young, then? It’s foolish for you to love a young girl.”
“Yes, mother dear, I have been foolish enough to love a young girl, and it ‘s my fault. I do my best to stop thinking of it, but, working or sleeping, at mass or in bed, with my children or with you, I can think of nothing else.”
“Then it ‘s like a fate cast over you, Germain. There ‘s but one remedy, and it is that this girl must change her mind and listen to you. It’s my duty to look into this, and see whether it ‘s practicable. Tell me where she lives, and what ‘s her name.”
“Oh, my dear mother, I dare not,” said Germain, “because you will make fun of me.”
“I shall not make fun of you, Germain, because you are in trouble, and I don’t wish to make it harder for you. Is it Fanchette?”
“No, mother, of course not.”
“Tell me, then, for I shall never finish if I must name every girl in the country-side.”
Germain bowed his head, and could not bring himself to answer.
“Very good,” said Mother Maurice, “I shall let you alone for today; tomorrow, perhaps, you will be more confidential with me, or possibly your sister-inlaw will question you more cleverly.” And she picked up her basket to go and spread her linen on the bushes.
Germain acted like children who make up their minds when they see that they are no longer attracting attention. He followed his mother, and at length, trembling, he named Marie of Guillette.
Great was the surprise of Mother Maurice. Marie was the last person she would have dreamed of. But she had the delicacy not to cry out, and made her comments to herself. Then seeing that her silence hurt Germain, she stretched out her basket toward him and said:
“Is there any reason for not helping me at my work. Carry this load, and come and talk with me. Have you reflected well, Germain? Are you fully decided?”
“Alas, dear mother, you must n’t speak in that way. I should be decided if I had a chance of success, but as I could never be heard, I have only made up my mind to cure myself, if I can.”
“And if you can’t.”
“There is an end to everything, Mother Maurice: when the horse is laden too heavily, he falls, and when the cow has nothing to eat, she dies.”
“Do you mean to say that you will die, if you do not succeed. God grant not, Germain. I don’t like to hear a man like you talk of those things; for what he says, he thinks. You are very brave, and weakness is dangerous for strong men. Take heart; I can’t conceive that a poverty-stricken girl, whom you have honored so much as to ask her to marry you, will refuse you.”
“Yet it ‘s the truth: she does refuse me.”
“And what reasons does she give you?”
“That you have always been kind to her, and that her family owes a great deal to yours, and that she does n’t wish to displease you by turning me away from a rich marriage.”
“If she says that, she proves her good sense, and shows what an honest girl she is. But, Germain, she does n’t cure you; for of course she tells you that she loves you and would marry you if we were willing?”
“That’s the worst part of all. She says that her heart can never be mine.”
“If she says what she does n’t think in order to keep you at a safer distance, the child deserves our love, and we should pass over her youth on account of her great good sense.”
“Yes,” said Germain, struck by a hope he had never held before; “that would be very wise and right of her! But if she is so sensible, I am sure it is because I displease her.”
“Germain,” said Mother Maurice, “you must promise me not to worry for a whole week. Keep from tormenting yourself, eat, sleep, and be as gay as you used to be. For my part, I ‘ll speak to my husband, and if I gain his consent, you shall know the girl’s real feelings toward you.”
Germain promised, and the week passed without a single word in private from Father Maurice, who seemed to suspect nothing. The husbandman did his best to look calm, but he grew ever paler and more troubled.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:54