“Very well,” said Germain, who was preoccupied, but always ready to do his neighbor a service.
In our world, it would never occur to a mother to entrust a daughter of sixteen to a man of twenty-eight! for Germain was really only twenty-eight, and although, according to the ideas of his province, he was considered an old man so far as marriage was concerned, he was still the handsomest man in the neighborhood. Work had not furrowed and wrinkled his face, as is the case with most peasants who have ten years of ploughing behind them. He was strong enough to plough ten more years without looking old, and the prejudice of age must have been very strong in a young girl’s mind to prevent her remarking that Germain had a fresh complexion, a bright eye, blue as the heavens in May, ruddy lips, superb teeth, and a body as graceful and supple as that of a colt that has never left the pasture.
But chastity is a sacred tradition in certain country districts, far removed from the corrupt animation of large cities, and Maurice’s family was noted among all the families of Belair for uprightness, and fidelity to the truth. Germain was going in search of a wife; Marie was too young and too pure for him to think of her in that light, and, unless he was a heartless, bad man, it was impossible that he should have a guilty thought in connection with her. Pere Maurice was in no way disturbed, therefore, to see him take the pretty girl en croupe; La Guillette would have considered that she was insulting him if she had requested him to respect her as his sister. Marie mounted the mare, weeping bitterly, after she had kissed her mother and her young friends twenty times over. Germain, who was also in a melancholy mood, had the more sympathy with her grief, and rode away with a grave face, while the neighbors waved their hands in farewell to poor Marie, with no thought of evil to come.
Grise was young and strong and handsome. She carried her double load easily, putting back her ears and champing her bit like the proud, high-spirited mare she was. As they rode by the long pasture, she spied her mother—who was called Old Grise, as she was called Young Grise—and neighed an adieu. Old Grise approached the fence, making her hopples ring, tried to leap over into the road to follow her daughter; then, seeing that she started off at a fast trot, she neighed in her turn, and stood looking after her, pensive and disturbed in mind, with her nose in the air, and her mouth filled with grass which she forgot to eat.
“The poor creature still knows her progeny,” said Germain to divert little Marie’s thoughts from her grief. “That makes me think that I didn’t kiss my Petit-Pierre before I started. The bad boy wasn’t there. Last night, he strove to make me promise to take him along, and he cried a good hour in his bed. This morning again he tried everything to persuade me. Oh! what a shrewd, wheedling little rascal he is! but when he saw that it couldn’t be, monsieur lost his temper: he went off into the fields, and I haven’t seen him all day.”