AT length, on Sunday morning, when mass was over, his mother-inlaw asked Germain what encouragement he had had from his sweetheart since the conversation in the orchard.
“Why, none at all,” answered he; “I have n’t spoken to her.”
“How can you expect to win her if you don’t speak to her?”
“I have spoken to her but once,” replied Germain. “That was when we were together at Fourche, and since then I have n’t said a single word. Her refusal gave me so much pain that I had rather not hear her begin again to tell me that she does n’t love me.”
“But, my son, you must speak to her now; your father gives his approval. So make up your mind. I tell you to do it, and, if need be, I shall order you to do it, for you can’t rest in this uncertainty.”
Germain obeyed. He reached Mother Guillette’s house, hanging his head with a hopeless air. Little Marie sat alone before the hearth so thoughtful that she did not hear Germain’s step. When she saw him before her, she started from her chair in surprise and grew very red.
“Little Marie,” said he, sitting down near her, “I come to trouble you and to give you pain. I know it very well, but the man and his wife at home [it was thus after the peasant fashion that he designated the heads of the house] wish me to speak to you, and beg you to marry me. You don’t care for me. I am prepared for it.”
“Germain,” answered little Marie, “are you sure that you love me?”
“It pains you, I know, but it is n’t my fault. If you could change your mind, I should be so very happy, and certain it is that I don’t deserve it. Look at me, Marie; am I very terrible?”
“No, Germain,” she answered, with a smile, “you are better looking than I.”
“Don’t make fun of me; look at me charitably; as yet, I have never lost a single hair nor a single tooth. My eyes tell you plainly how much I love you. Look straight into my eyes. It is written there, and every girl knows how to read that writing.”
Marie looked into Germain’s eyes with playful boldness; then of a sudden she turned away her head and trembled.
“Good God,” exclaimed Germain, “I make you afraid; you look at me as though I were the farmer of Ormeaux. Don’t be afraid of me, please don’t; that hurts me too much. I shall not say any bad words to you, I shall not kiss you if you will not have me, and when you wish me to go away, you have only to show me the door. Must I go in order to stop your trembling?”
Marie held out her hand toward the husbandman, but without turning her head, which was bent on the fireplace, and without saying a word.
“I understand,” said Germain. “You pity me, for you are kind; you are sorry to make me unhappy; but you cant love me.”
“Why do you say these things to me, Germain?” answered little Marie, after a pause. “Do you wish to make me cry?”
“Poor little girl, you have a kind heart, I know; but you don’t love me, and you are hiding your face for fear of letting me see your dislike and your repugnance. And I? I dare not even clasp your hand! In the forest, when my boy was asleep and you were sleeping too, I almost kissed you very gently. But I would have died of shame rather than ask it of you, and that night I suffered as a man burning over a slow fire. Since that time I have dreamed of you every night. Ah! how I have kissed you, Marie! Yet during all that time you have slept without a dream. And now, do you know what I think? I think that were you to turn and look at me with the eyes I have for you, and were you to move your face close to mine, I believe I should fall dead for joy. And you, you think that if such a thing were to happen, you would die of anger and shame!”
Germain spoke as in a dream, not hearing the words he said. Little Marie was trembling all the time, but he was shaking yet more and did not notice it. Of a sudden, she turned. Her eyes were filled with tears, and she looked at him reproachfully. The poor husbandman thought that this was the last blow, and without waiting for his sentence, he rose to go, but the girl stopped him, and throwing both her arms about him, she hid her face in his breast.
“Oh, Germain,” she sobbed, “did n’t you feel that I loved you?”
Then Germain had gone mad, if his son, who came galloping into the cottage on a stick, with his little sister on the crupper, scourging the imaginary steed with a willow branch, had not brought him to his senses. He lifted the boy and placed him in the girl’s arms.
“See,” said he, “by loving me, you have made more than one person happy.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59