Her white fichu, chastely crossed over her bosom, showed only the graceful contour of a neck as full and round as a turtle-dove’s; her morning dress of fine myrtle-green cloth marked the shape of her slender waist, which seemed perfect, but was likely to grow and develop, for she was only seventeen. She wore an apron of violet silk, with the pinafore which our village women have made a great mistake in abolishing, and which imparted so much modesty and refinement to the chest. To-day, they spread out their fichus more proudly, but there is no longer that sweet flower of old-fashioned pudicity in their costume that made them resemble Holbein’s virgins. They are more coquettish, more graceful. The correct style in the old days was a sort of unbending stiffness which made their infrequent smiles more profound and more ideal.
At the offertory, Germain, according to the usual custom, placed the treizain—that is to say, thirteen pieces of silver—in his fiancee’s hand. He placed on her finger a silver ring of a shape that remained invariable for centuries, but has since been replaced by the band of gold. As they left the church, Marie whispered: “Is it the ring I wanted? the one I asked you for, Germain?”
“Yes,” he replied, “the one my Catherine had on her finger when she died. The same ring for both my marriages.”
“Thank you, Germain,” said the young wife in a serious tone and with deep feeling. “I shall die with it, and if I die before you, you must keep it for your little Solange.”
They remounted their horses, and rode rapidly back to Belair. The banquet was a sumptuous affair, and lasted, intermingled with dancing and singing, until midnight. The old people did not leave the table for fourteen hours. The grave-digger did the cooking, and did it very well. He was renowned for that, and he left his ovens to come and dance and sing between every two courses. And yet he was epileptic, was poor Pere Bontemps. Who would have suspected it? He was as fresh and vigorous and gay as a young man. One day we found him lying like a dead man in a ditch, all distorted by his malady, just at nightfall. We carried him to our house in a wheelbarrow, and passed the night taking care of him. Three days later, he was at a wedding, singing like a thrush, leaping like a kid, and frisking about in the old-fashioned way. On leaving a marriage-feast, he would go and dig a grave and nail up a coffin. He performed those duties devoutly, and although they seemed to have no effect on his merry humor, he retained a melancholy impression which hastened the return of his attacks. His wife, a paralytic, had not left her chair for twenty years. His mother is a hundred and forty years old and is still alive. But he, poor man, so jovial and kind-hearted and amusing, was killed last year by falling from his loft to the pavement. Doubtless he was suddenly attacked by his malady, and had hidden himself in the hay, as he was accustomed to do, in order not to frighten and distress his family. Thus ended, in a tragic way, a life as strange as himself, a mixture of gloom and folly, of horror and hilarity, amid which his heart remained always kind and his character lovable.