“Why did you refuse to let them in?” said Germain angrily. “Are you so suspicious in these parts that you don’t open your door to your neighbor?”
“Oh! bless me!” the servant replied, “in a rich house like this, one has to keep a sharp lookout. I am responsible for everything when the masters are away, and I can’t open the door to everybody that comes.”
“That’s a vile custom,” said Germain, “and I’d rather be poor than live in fear like that. Adieu, girl! adieu to your wretched country!”
He inquired at the neighboring houses. Everybody had seen the shepherdess and the child. As the little one had left Belair unexpectedly, without being dressed for the occasion, with a torn blouse and his little lamb’s fleece over his shoulders; and as little Marie was necessarily very shabbily dressed at all times, they had been taken for beggars. Some one had offered them bread; the girl had accepted a piece for the child, who was hungry, then she had walked away very fast with him and had gone into the woods.
Germain reflected a moment, then asked if the farmer from Ormeaux had not come to Fourche.
“Yes,” was the reply; “he rode by on horseback a few minutes after the girl.”
“Did he ride after her?”
“Ah! you know him, do you?” laughed the village innkeeper, to whom he had applied for information.
“Yes, to be sure; he’s a devil of a fellow for running after the girls. But I don’t believe he caught that one; although, after all, if he had seen her—”
“That’s enough, thanks!” And he flew rather than ran to Leonard’s stable. He threw the saddle on Grise’s back, leaped upon her, and galloped away in the direction of the woods of Chanteloube.
His heart was beating fast with anxiety and wrath, the perspiration rolled down his forehead. He covered Grise’s sides with blood, although the mare, when she found that she was on the way to her stable, did not need to be urged to go at full speed.
THE OLD WOMAN
Germain soon found himself at the spot on the edge of the pool where he had passed the night. The fire was still smoking; an old woman was picking up what was left of the dead wood Marie had collected. Germain stopped to question her. She was deaf, and misunderstood his questions.
“Yes, my boy,” she said, “this is the Devil’s Pool. It’s a bad place, and you mustn’t come near it without throwing three stones in with your left hand and crossing yourself with your right: that drives away the spirits. Unless they do that, misfortune comes to those who walk around it.”
“I didn’t ask you about that,” said Germain, drawing nearer to her and shouting at the top of his voice: “Haven’t you seen a girl and a young child going through the woods?”
“Yes,” said the old woman, “there was a small child drowned there!”