“Yes, Pierre, I will help you,” said the girl. “Come, kneel here by my side.”
The child knelt on the girl’s skirt, clasped his little hands, and began to repeat his prayer with interest and fervently at first, for he knew the beginning very well; then more slowly and hesitatingly, and at last repeating word for word what Marie dictated to him, when he reached that point in his petition beyond which he had never been able to learn, as he always fell asleep just there every night. On this occasion, the labor of paying attention and the monotony of his own tones produced their customary effect, so that he pronounced the last syllables only with great effort, and after they had been repeated three times; his head grew heavy, and fell against Marie’s breast: his hands relaxed, separated, and fell open upon his knees. By the light of the camp-fire, Germain looked at his little angel nodding against the girl’s heart, while she, holding him in her arms and warming his fair hair with her sweet breath, abandoned herself to devout reverie and prayed mentally for Catherine’s soul.
Germain was deeply moved, and tried to think of something to say to little Marie to express the esteem and gratitude she inspired in him, but he could find nothing that would give voice to his thoughts. He approached her to kiss his son, whom she was still holding against her breast, and it was hard for him to remove his lips from Petit-Pierre’s brow.
“You kiss him too hard,” said Marie, gently pushing the ploughman’s head away, “you will wake him. Let me put him to bed again, for he has gone back to his dreams of paradise.”
The child let her put him down, but as he stretched himself out on the goat-skin of the saddle, he asked if he were on Grise. Then, opening his great blue eyes, and gazing at the branches for a moment, he seemed to be in a waking dream, or to be impressed by an idea that had come into his mind during the day and took shape at the approach of sleep. “Little father,” he said, “if you’re going to give me another mother, I want it to be little Marie.”
And, without awaiting a reply, he closed his eyes and went to sleep.
DESPITE THE COLD
Little Marie seemed to pay no further heed to the child’s strange words than to look upon them as a proof of friendship; she wrapped him up carefully, stirred the fire, and, as the mist lying upon the neighboring pool gave no sign of lifting, she advised Germain to lie down near the fire and have a nap.
“I see that you’re almost asleep now,” she said, “for you don’t say a word, and you are staring at the fire just as your little one did just now. Come, go to sleep, and I will watch over you and the child.”
“You’re the one to go to sleep,” replied the ploughman, “and I will watch both of you, for I never was less inclined to sleep; I have fifty ideas in my head.”