This is the second instalment of my summary of La Mare au Diable (The Devil’s Pool) by George Sand. It covers Chapters V1-X of the 1947 French edition; see here for a summary of Chapters I-V.
Chapter VI: ‘Petit Pierre’ (‘Little Peter’)
The chapter begins with an image of Grise, the horse pictured on the cover, galloping away as her mother la vieille Grise (Old Grise) tries and fails to follow her on her journey. [This image clearly symbolises Old Mother Guillette’s anxiety and distress about the departure of her daughter.]
At the sight of this, Germain remembers that he didn’t kiss Petit Pierre goodbye before leaving. He tells Marie that Petit Pierre was very distressed the night before and had cried for an hour in his bed. But when it was time to leave in the morning, the boy was nowhere to be found. Marie asks Germain why he didn’t bring the child along too, and Germain repeats his father-in-law’s advice that it would be best not to show his potential new wife the burdens she would have to take on. Marie is just remonstrating that his children are so lovely that no one could reject them when they see (as per the cover illustration) Petit Pierre asleep under a bush. There follows a scene in which Petit Pierre uses all his manipulative wiles to wangle his way into accompanying his father. Germain rues that he did not previously hire Marie to care for his children and she offers to do it if it turns out that his new wife doesn’t like children.
Il ne faut pas voir comme ça les choses par le mauvais côté, répondit la petite Marie, en tenant la bride du cheval pendant que germain plaçait son fils sur le devant du large bât garni de peau de chèvre: si votre femme n’aime pas les enfants, vous me prendrez à votre service l’an prochain, et, soyez tranquille, je les amuserai si bien qu’ils ne s’apercevront de rien. (p.83, underlining mine)
You shouldn’t look at things from the dark side, replied little Marie, holding the horse’s bridle while Germain placed his son at the front of the broad goatskin pack-saddle; if your wife doesn’t like children, you can take me into your service next year, and, relax, I will amuse them so well that they won’t notice anything.
And even though in the original French text Sand has been careful for these two to address each other using the formal ‘vous’ rather than the more intimate ‘tu’—the reader, watching closely, can see where Marie’s tenderness towards Germain’s children, is going to lead…
Chapter VII: ‘Dans La Lande’ (‘On the Moor’)
Having arranged to send a message to Maurice that Petit Pierre was with them, the trio set off again. But before long Petit Pierre is hungry, and so they stop at Mère Rebec’s wine-shop. Marie claims that she is too sad to eat, but Germain reminds her that she had earlier given her bread to Petit Pierre, and so they have a meal of omelette, bread and wine and it takes the best part of an hour. This delay makes them late, and it is getting dark when Germain loses his way. He thinks they are bewitched:
Je crois que nous sommes ensorcelés, dit Germain en s’arrêtant, car ces bois ne sont pas assez grands pour qu’on s’y perde, à moins d’être ivre, et il y a deux heures au moins que nous y tournons sans pouvoir en sortir. (p.92-3)
I believe we are bewitched, said Germain as he stopped, because these woods aren’t big enough to get lost in, unless a man is drunk, and yet we’ve been riding about for two hours without getting out of them.
They dismount and try walking instead so that they can see the way better, but Grise is fed up and breaks away, so with the perils of a ditch and a pond somewhere about, Germain decides that the best thing to do is stay put and wait till the mist rises. Then they can look for a house…
Ch VIII ‘Sous Les Grandes Chênes’ (‘Under the Great Oak Trees’)
Marie proves herself a very capable young lady in this chapter. She takes Germain to task for being so pessimistic, organises a bed for the sleeping child and a fire to keep them warm; and she cooks Germain’s gift for his potential new father-in-law—some partridges and a hare. They were in his saddlebag (which was thrown off, fortuitously, by Grise as she bolted), and Marie supplements them with some chestnuts that she had (fortuitously) gathered along the way. Germain is very impressed by her ingenuity and skills, notes that she wouldn’t cost much to keep since (unused to eating four meals a day like he is) she eats barely a morsel, and thinks that she will make a very good wife one day.
But like the respectable young lady she is, Marie doesn’t notice the turn that Germain’s thoughts are taking, and just as he begins to discuss her marriage prospects, Petit Pierre (fortuitously) wakes up.
Ch IX ‘La Prière du Soir’ (‘The Evening Prayer’)
A cannon-shot, apparently, wouldn’t wake Pierre, but the sound of anyone eating certainly does, and he soon tucks into the meal, Marie still staunchly claiming that she’s not hungry.
[It’s my recollection that a lot of fiction in this era portrays women and girls as too ladylike to have a hearty appetite, see R.D. Blackmore’s Lorna Doone (1869), for example, nibbling so delicately that it’s not possible to see that she’s eating at all.]
Once properly awake, Petit Pierre remembers the wolves his father had said were in the forest, but Marie cleverly reassures him, impressing Germain with the way she knows just what to say to children. It’s because she’s so young herself and remembers her own mother’s reassurances, says Germain, cursing the 30-year-old woman he’s supposed to marry because she won’t know how to be a mother to his children.
This reminds Petit-Pierre that he should say his prayer for his mother, and he does so at Marie’s breast, eventually nodding off… only to wake briefly and say:
Mon petit père, dit-il, si tu veux me donner une autre mère, je veux que ce soit la petite Marie.
Et, sans attendre de réponse, il ferma les yeux et s’endormit.
Dear father, said he, if you want to give me another mother, I want it to be Little Marie.
And without waiting for an answer, he closed his eyes and fell asleep.
Ch X ‘Malgré Le Froid’ (‘Despite the Cold’)
Marie pays no attention to the child’s strange words, and tells Germain to get some sleep while she watches over them both. He can’t sleep, he tells her, he has 50 ideas in his head, and she mocks him a little. She thinks he has only one idea: before, it was the idea of eating, and now it’s the idea of sleeping. He’s a bit offended, and she ticks him off for being such a worrier, not showing much courage for a man, and certainly not as much courage as she has in dealing with her own grief.
He talks about her likely fate among strangers, and again she ticks him off for this pessimistic forecast: he should be optimistic for her sake, she thinks. He leads her onto the idea of marriage as an escape route, and is dismayed to find that when she’s saved up enough money, she wants a young man, not someone his age.
Un vieux, sans doute; mais, par exemple, un homme de mon âge?
Votre âge est vieux pour moi, Germain; j’aimerais l’âge de Bastien, quoique Bastien ne soit pas si joli homme que vous.
Tu aimerais mieux Bastien le porcher? dit Germain avec humeur. Un garçon qui a les yeux faits comme les bêtes qu’il mène?
An old man, of course not, but, for example, a man of my age?
Your age is old for me, Germain. I would like someone of Bastien’s age, though he is not as good-looking as you are.
You would prefer Bastien the swineherd? said Germain moodily. A boy who has eyes like the beasts he tends?
Bastien is 18, you see…
However, she goes on to say, he’s not very bright and he’s not very clean, but when Germain presses her on this, she asks Qu’est-ce que ça fait? (What’s it got to do with you?) It’s just as well that she doesn’t hear his intemperate words in response because she’s fallen asleep, just like a child…
But Germain can’t sleep. He wanders about in circles, almost falling over the sleeping pair in the dark, and when Marie wakes, they set off in hope of finding a house because Germain knows it will only get colder as dawn approaches. Germain takes Marie in under his cloak, (because hers is around the still sleeping Petit Pierre), and he struggles to keep his feelings under control.
But after two hours, they find themselves back where they were.
On to XI A La Belle Étoile (A Beautiful Star) in the next instalment…
Author: George Sand
Title: La Mare au Diable (The Devil’s Pool)
Publisher: Nelson, Paris, London, Edinburgh & New York, 1947, first published 1846, 282 pages (A6)
Source: gift of Bill Holloway from The Australian Legend.