In her pocket she had, beside her map and her mother's certificate, a few little things tied up in a rag. There was a piece of soap, a small comb, a thimble, and a spool of thread, in which she had stuck two needles. She undid her packet; then taking off her vest, her shoes, and her stockings, she leaned over the ditch, in which the water flowed clear, and soaped her face, shoulders and feet. For a towel she had only the rag she had used to tie up her belongings, and it was neither big nor thick, but it was better than nothing.
This toilette did her almost as much good as her sleep. She combed her golden hair in two big braids and let them hang over her shoulders. If it were not for the little pain in her stomach, and the few torn places in her shoes, which had been the cause of her sore feet, she would have been quite at ease in mind and body.
She was hungry, but there was nothing she could do. She could not find a bit of nourishment in this cabin, and as it was still raining, she felt that she ought not to leave this shelter until the next day.
Then when night came her hunger became more intense, till finally she began to cut some twigs and nibble on them, but they were hard and bitter, and after chewing on them for a few minutes she threw them away. She tried the leaves; they went down easier.
While she ate her meal and darned her stockings, night came on. Soon all was dark and silent. She could hear no other sound than that of the raindrops falling from the branches.
Although she had made up her mind to spend the night there, she experienced a feeling of fright at being all alone in this black forest. True, she had spent a part of the day in the same place, running no other danger than that of being struck, but the woods in the daytime are not like the woods at night, with the solemn silence and the mysterious shadows, which make one conjure up the vision of so many weird things.
What was in the woods? she wondered. Wolves, perhaps!
At this thought she became wide awake, and jumping up, she found a big stick, which she cut to a point with her knife; then she strewed branches and fagots all around her, piling them high. She could at least defend herself behind her rampart.
Reassured, she laid down again, and it was not long before she was asleep.
The song of a bird awoke her. She recognized at once the sweet, shrill notes of a blackbird. Day was breaking. She began to shake, for she was chilled to the bone. The dampness of the night had made her clothes as wet as though she had been through a shower.
She jumped to her feet and shook herself violently like a dog. She felt that she ought to move about, but she did not want to go on her way yet, for it was not yet light enough for her to study the sky to see if it were going to rain again. To pass the time, and still more with the wish to be on the move, she arranged the fagots which she had disturbed the night before. Then she combed her hair and washed herself in the ditch, which was full of water.
When she had finished the sun had risen, and the sky gleamed blue through the branches of the trees. There was not the slightest cloud to be seen. She must go.
Although she had darned her stockings well which had worn away through the holes in her shoes, the continual tramp, tramp, tramp, made her little feet ache. After a time, however, she stepped out with a regular step on the road, which had been softened by the rain, and the rays from the beautiful sun fell upon her back and warmed her.
Never had she seen such a lovely morning. The storm, which had washed the roads and the fields, had given new life to the plants. Surely this was a good omen. She was full of hope.
Her imagination began to soar on wings. She hoped that somebody had had a hole in their pockets and had lost some money, and that she could find it on the road. She hoped she might find something, not a purse full, because she would have to try to find the owner, but just a little coin, one penny, or perhaps ten cents. She even thought that she might find some work to do, something that could bring her in a few cents.
She needed so little to be able to live for three or four days.
She trudged along with her eyes fixed on the ground, but neither a copper nor a silver coin did she see, and neither did she meet anybody who could give her work.
Oh, for something to eat! She was famished. Again and again she had to sit down by the wayside, she was so weak from lack of food.
She wondered if she found nothing would she have to sit down by the road and die.
Finally she came to a field and saw four young girls picking peas. A peasant woman seemed to be in charge.
Gathering courage, she crossed over the road and walked towards the woman. But the woman stopped her before she could reach her.
"What cher want?" she shouted.
"I want to know if I can help, too," answered Perrine.
"We don't want no one!"
"You can give me just what you wish."
"Where d'ye come from?"
One of the girls raised her head and cast her an angry look.
"The galavanter!" she cried, "she comes from Paris to try to get our job."
"I told yer we don't want nobody," said the woman again.
There was nothing to do but to go on her way, which she did with a heavy heart.
"Look out! A cop's comin'!" cried one of the girls.
Perrine turned her head quickly, and they all burst out laughing, amused at the joke.
She had not gone far before she had to stop. She could not see the road for the tears which filled her eyes. What had she done to those girls that they should be so mean to her?
Evidently it was as difficult for tramps to get work as it was for them to find pennies. She did not dare ask again for a job. She dragged her feet along, only hurrying when she was passing through the villages so that she could escape the stares.
She was almost prostrated when she reached a wood. It was mid-day and the sun was scorching; there was not a breath of air. She was exhausted and dripping with perspiration. Then her heart seemed to stop and she fell to the ground, unable to move or think.
A wagon coming up behind her passed by.
"This heat'll kill one," shouted the driver.
In a half conscious state she caught his words. They came to her like in a dream; it was as though sentence had been passed upon her.
So she was to die? She had thought so herself, but now a messenger of Death was saying so.
Well, she would die. She could keep up no longer. Her father was dead, and her mother was dead, now she was going to die. A cruel thought flitted through her dull brain. She wondered why she could not have died with them rather than in a ditch like a poor animal.
She tried to make a last effort to get to the wood where she could find a spot to lie down for her last sleep, somewhere away from the road. She managed to drag herself into the wood, and there she found a little grassy spot where violets were growing. She laid down under a large tree, her head on her arm, just as she did at night when she went to sleep.
Something warm passing over her face made her open her eyes. Dimly she saw a large velvety head bending over her. In terror she tried to throw herself on one side, but a big tongue licked her cheek and held her to the grass. So quickly had this happened that she had not had time to recognize the big velvety head which belonged to a donkey, but while the great tongue continued to lick her face and hands she was able to look up at it.
Palikare! It was dear, dear Palikare! She threw her arms around her donkey's neck and burst into tears.
"My darling, dear, darling Palikare," she murmured.
When he heard his name he stopped licking her and lifting his head he sent forth five or six triumphant brays of happiness. Then, as though that was not enough to express his contentment, he let out five or six more, but not quite so loud.
Perrine then noticed that he was without a harness or a rope.
While she stroked him with her hand and he bent his long ears down to her, she heard a hoarse voice calling:
"What yer found, old chap? I'll be there in a minute. I'm comin', old boy."
There was a quick step on the road, and Perrine saw what appeared to be a man dressed in a smock and wearing a leather hat and with a pipe in his mouth.
"Hi, kid, what yer doin' with my donkey?" he cried, without taking the pipe from his lip.
Then Perrine saw that it was the rag woman to whom she had sold Palikare at the Horse Market. The woman did not recognize her at first. She stared hard at her for a moment.
"Sure I've seen yer somewhere," she said at last.
"It was I who sold you Palikare," said Perrine.
"Why, sure it's you, little one, but what in Heaven's name are you doin' here?"
Perrine could not reply. She was so giddy her head whirled. She had been sitting up, but now she was obliged to lie down again, and her pallor and tears spoke for her.
"What's the matter? Are you sick?" demanded La Rouquerie.
Although Perrine moved her lips as though to speak, no sound came. Again she was sinking into unconsciousness, partly from emotion, partly from weakness.
But La Rouquerie was a woman of experience; she had seen all miseries.
"The kid's dying of hunger," she muttered to herself.
She hurried over the road to a little truck over the sides of which were spread out some dried rabbit skins. The woman quickly opened a box and took out a slice of bread, a piece of cheese and a bottle. She carried it back on the run.
Perrine was still in the same condition.
"One little minute, girlie; one little minute," she said encouragingly.
Kneeling down beside little Perrine, she put the bottle to her lips.
"Take a good drink; that'll keep you up," she said.
True, the good drink brought the blood back to her cheeks.
"Are you hungry?"
"Yes," murmured Perrine.
"Well, now you must eat, but gently; wait a minute."
She broke off a piece of bread and cheese and offered it to her.
"Eat it slowly," she said, advisedly, for already Perrine had devoured the half of what was handed to her. "I'll eat with you, then you won't eat so fast."
Palikare had been standing quietly looking on with his big soft eyes. When he saw La Rouquerie sit down on the grass beside Perrine, he also knelt down beside them.
"The old rogue, he wants a bite, too," said the woman.
"May I give him a piece?" asked Perrine.
"Yes, you can give him a piece or two. When we've eaten this there is more in the cart. Give him some; he is so pleased to see you again, good old boy. You know he is a good boy."
"Yes, isn't he a dear?" said Perrine, softly.
"Now when you've eaten that you can tell me how you come to be in these woods pretty near starved to death. Sure it'd be a pity for you to kick the bucket yet awhile."
After she had eaten as much as was good for her, Perrine told her story, commencing with the death of her mother. When she came to the scene she had had with the baker woman at St. Denis, the woman took her pipe from her mouth and called the baker woman some very bad names.
"She's a thief, a thief!" she cried. "I've never given bad money to no one, 'cause I never take any from nobody. Be easy! She'll give that back to me next time I pass by her shop, or I'll put the whole neighborhood against her. I've friends at St. Denis, and we'll set her store on fire if she don't give it up!"
Perrine finished her story.
"You was just about goin' to die," said La Rouquerie; "what was the feelin' like?"
"At first I felt very sad," said Perrine, "and I think I must have cried like one cries in the night when one is suffocating; then I dreamed of Heaven and of the good food I should have there. Mama, who was waiting for me, had made me some milk chocolate; I could smell it."
"It's funny that this heat wave, which was going to kill you, really was the cause of yer bein' saved. If it hadn't been for this darned heat I never should have stopped to let that donkey rest in this wood, and then he wouldn't have found yer. What cher goin' to do now?"
"Go on my way."
"And tomorrow? What yer got to eat? One's got to be young like you to take such a trip as this."
"But what could I do?"
La Rouquerie gravely took two or three puffs at her pipe. She was thoughtful for a moment; then she said:
"See here, I'm goin' as far as Creil, no farther. I'm buyin' odds and ends in the villages as I go along. It's on the way to Chantilly, so you come along with me. Now yell out a bit if you've got the strength: 'Rabbit skins! Rags and bones to sell!'"
Perrine straightened herself and cried out as she was told.
"That's fine! You've got a good, clear voice. As I've got a sore throat, you can do the calling out for me, so like that you'll earn your grub. When we get to Creil I know a farmer there who goes as far as Amiens to get eggs and things. I'll ask him to take you in his cart. When you get to Amiens you can take the train to where yer relations hang out."
"But what with? How can I take a train?"
"I'll advance you the five francs that I'm goin' to get back from that baker. I'll get it! So I'll give yer five francs for your fare."
MARAUCOURT AT LAST
Things came to pass as La Rouquerie had arranged. For eight days Perrine ran through the streets of the villages and towns crying out: "Rabbit skins! Rags! Bones!"
"You've got a voice that would make yer famous for this here business," said La Rouquerie admiringly, as Perrine's clear treble was heard in the streets. "If yer'd stay with me you'd be doin' me a service and yer wouldn't be unhappy. You'd make a livin'. Is it a go?"
"Oh, thank you, but it's not possible," replied Perrine.
Finding that the reasons she advanced were not sufficient to induce Perrine to stay with her, La Rouquerie put forth another:
"And yer wouldn't have to leave Palikare."
This was a great grief, but Perrine had made up her mind.
"I must go to my relations; I really must," she said.
"Did your relatives save yer life, like that there donkey?" insisted La Rouquerie.
"But I promised my mother."
"Go, then, but you see one fine day you'll be sorry yer didn't take what I offered yer p'raps."
"You are very kind and I shall always remember you."
When they reached Creil, La Rouquerie hunted up her friend, the farmer, and asked him to give Perrine a lift in his cart as far as Amiens. He was quite willing, and for one whole day Perrine enjoyed the comfort of lying stretched out on the straw, behind two good trotting horses. At Essentaux she slept in a barn.
The next day was Sunday, and she was up bright and early and quickly made her way to the railway station. Handing her five francs to the ticket seller she asked for a ticket to Picquigny. This time she had the satisfaction of seeing that her five francs was accepted. She received her ticket and seventy-five cents in change.
It was 12 o'clock when the train pulled in at the station at Picquigny. It was a beautiful, sunny morning, the air was soft and warm, far different from the scorching heat which had prostrated her in the woods, and she ... how unlike she was from that miserable little girl who had fallen by the wayside. And she was clean, too. During the days she had spent with La Rouquerie she had been able to mend her waist and her skirt, and had washed her linen and shined her shoes. Her past experience was a lesson: she must never give up hope at the darkest moment; she must always remember that there was a silver cloud, if she would only persevere.
She had a long walk after she got out of the train at Picquigny. But she walked along lightly past the meadows bordered with poplars and limes, past the river where the villagers in their Sunday clothes were fishing, past the windmills which, despite the fact that the day was calm, were slowly moving round, blown by the breeze from the sea which could be felt even there.
She walked through the pretty village of St. Pipoy, with its red roofs and quaint church, and over the railway tracks which unites the towns wherein Vulfran Paindavoine has his factories, and which joins the main line to Boulogne.
As Perrine passed the pretty church the people were coming out from mass. Listening to them as they talked in groups she heard again the sing-song manner of talking that her father had often imitated so as to amuse her.
On the country road she saw a young girl walking slowly ahead of her carrying a very heavy basket on her arm.
"Is this the way to Maraucourt?" Perrine asked.
"Yes, this road ... quite straight."
"Quite straight," said Perrine laughing, "it isn't so very straight after all."
"If you are going to Maraucourt, I'm going there too, and we could go together," suggested the girl.
"I will if you'll let me help you carry your basket," said Perrine with a smile.
"I won't say no to that, for it's sure heavy!"
The girl put her basket on the ground and breathed a sigh of relief.
"You don't belong to Maraucourt, do you?" asked the girl.
"No, do you?"
"Sure I do."
"Do you work in the factories?"
"Should say so, everybody does here."
"How much do they pay?"
"And is it hard work?"
"Not very; but you have to have a sharp eye and not waste time. Do you want to get in there?"
"Yes, if they'd have me."
"Should say they would have you; they take anybody. If they didn't how do you think they'd get the seven thousand hands they've got. Just be there tomorrow morning at 6 o'clock at the gate. We must hurry now or I'll be late. Come on."
She took the handle of the basket on one side and Perrine took it on the other side and they set out on the road, keeping in step down the middle.
Here was an opportunity for Perrine to learn what held interest for her. It was too good for her not to seize it. But she was afraid to question this girl openly. She must put the questions she wanted answered in a way that would not arouse her suspicions.
"Were you born at Maraucourt?" she began.
"Sure, I'm a native and my mother was too, my father came from Picquigny."
"Have you lost them?"
"Yes, I live with my grandmother who keeps a grocer store and restaurant. She's Madame Francoise."
"Ah! Madame Francoise."
"What! do you know her?"
"No, I just said, 'Ah, Madame Francoise.'"
"She's known everywhere for her 'eats' and 'cause she was nurse to Monsieur Edmond Paindavoine. Whenever the men want to ask the boss, Monsieur Vulfran Paindavoine, for anything, they get my grandmother to ask for them."
"Does she always get what they want?"
"Sometimes yes, sometimes no; Monsieur Vulfran ain't always obliging."
"If your grandmother was nurse to Monsieur Edmond why doesn't she ask him?"
"M. Edmond? he's the boss' son, and he went away from here before I was born, no one's seen him since. He had a quarrel with his father, and his father sent him to India to buy jute. The boss has made his fortune out of jute. He's rich, as rich as...."
She could not think how rich M. Vulfran was so she said abruptly: "Now shall we change arms?"
"If you like. What is your name?"
"Rosalie. What's yours?"
Perrine did not want to give her real name, so she chanced on one.
"Aurelie," she said.
They rested for a while, then went on again at their regular step.
"You say that the son had a quarrel with his father," said Perrine, "then went away?"
"Yes, and the old gentleman got madder still with him 'cause he married a Hindu girl, and a marriage like that doesn't count. His father wanted him to marry a young lady who came of a very fine family, the best in Picardy. It was because he wanted his son to marry this other girl that he built the beautiful mansion he's got. It cost millions and millions of francs. But M. Edmond wouldn't part with the wife he's got over there to take up with the young lady here, so the quarrel got worse and worse, and now they don't even know if the son is dead or alive. They haven't had news of him for years, so they say. Monsieur Vulfran doesn't speak to anyone about it, neither do the two nephews."
"Oh, he has nephews?"
"Yes, Monsieur Theodore Paindavoine, his brother's son, and Monsieur Casimir Bretoneux, his sister's son, who help him in the business. If M. Edmond doesn't come back the fortune and all the factories will go to his two nephews."
"Yes, and that'll be a sad thing, sad for the whole town. Them nephews ain't no good for the business ... and so many people have to get their living from it. Sure, it'll be a sad day when they get it, and they will if poor M. Edmond doesn't come back. On Sundays, when I serve the meals, I hear all sorts of things."
"About his nephews?"
"Yes, about them two and others also. But it's none of our business; let's talk of something else."
"Yes, why not?"
As Perrine did not want to appear too inquisitive, she walked on silently, but Rosalie's tongue could not be still for very long.
"Did you come along with your parents to Maraucourt?" she asked.
"I have no parents."
"No father, no mother!"
"You're like me, but I've got a grandmother who's very good, and she'd be still better if it wasn't for my uncles and aunts; she has to please them. If it wasn't for them I should not have to work in the factories; I should stay at home and help in the store, but grandmother can't do as she wants always. So you're all alone?"
"Yes, all alone."
"Was it your own idea to leave Paris and come to Maraucourt?"
"I was told that I might find work at Maraucourt, so instead of going further on to some relations, I stopped here. If you don't know your relations, and they don't know you, you're not sure if you're going to get a welcome."
"That's true. If there are kind ones, there are some mighty unkind ones in this world."
"Yes, that is so," Perrine said, nodding her pretty head.
"Well, don't worry; you'll find work in the factories. Ten sous a day is not much, but it's something, and you can get as much as twenty-two sous. I'm going to ask you a question; you can answer or not, as you like. Have you got any money?"
"Well, if you'd like to lodge at my grandmother's, that'll cost you twenty-eight sous a week, pay in advance."
"I can pay twenty-eight sous."
"Now, I don't promise you a fine room all to yourself at that price; there'll be six in the same room, but you'll have a bed, some sheets and a coverlet. Everybody ain't got that."
"I'd like it and thank you very much."
"My grandmother don't only take in lodgers who can only pay twenty-eight sous. We've got some very fine rooms in our house. Our boarders are employed at the factories. There's Monsieur Fabry, the engineer of the building; Monsieur Mombleux, the head clerk, and Mr. Bendit, who has charge of the foreign correspondence. If you ever speak to him always call him Mr. Benndite. He's an Englishman, and he gets mad if you pronounce his name 'Bendit.' He thinks that one wants to insult him, just as though one was calling him 'Thief'!"
"I won't forget; besides, I know English."
"You know English! You!"
"My mother was English."
"So, so! Well, that'll be fine for Mr. Bendit, but he'd be more pleased if you knew every language. His great stunt on Sunday is to read prayers that are printed in twenty-five languages. When he's gone through them once, he goes over them again and again. Every Sunday he does the same thing. All the same, he's a very fine man."
Through the great trees which framed the road on either side, Perrine could see beyond the hill the tops of some high chimneys and buildings.
"We're coming to Maraucourt," said Rosalie; "you'll see Monsieur Paindavoine's mansion soon, then the factories. We shan't see the village until we get down the other side of the hill. Over by the river there's the church and cemetery."
Then, as they neared the spot where the poplars were swaying, there came into view a beautiful chateau towering grandly above the trees, with its facade of stone gabled roofs and chimneys standing out magnificently in a park planted with trees and shrubs which stretched out as far as the meadows.
Perrine stopped short in amazement, whilst Rosalie continue to step out. This made them jolt the basket, whereupon Rosalie plumped it down on the ground and stretched herself.
"Ah, you think that fine, don't you?" said Rosalie, following Perrine's glance.
"Why, it's beautiful," said Perrine, softly.
"Well, old Monsieur Vulfran lives there all alone. He's got a dozen servants to wait on him, without counting the gardeners and stablemen who live in those quarters over there at the end of the park. That place over there is the electric power house for lighting up the chateau. Fine, ain't it? And you should see the inside! There's gold everywhere, and velvets, and such carpets! Them nephews want to live there with him, but he won't have 'em. He even eats his meals all alone."
They took up the basket and went on again. Soon they saw a general view of the works. But to Perrine's eyes there seemed only a confusion of buildings, some old, some new, just a great gray mass with big, tall chimneys everywhere. Then they came to the first houses of the village, with apple trees and pear trees growing in the gardens. Here was the village of which her father had spoken so often.
What struck her most was the number of people she saw. Groups of men, women and children dressed up in their Sunday clothes stood chatting before the houses or sat in the low rooms, the windows of which were thrown wide open. A mass of people, people everywhere. In the low-ceiling rooms, where those from outside could see all that was passing within, some were drinking bright colored drinks, others had jugs of cider, while others had on the tables before them black coffee or whisky. And what a tapping of glasses and voices raised in angry dispute!
"What a lot of people there seem to be drinking," said Perrine.
"That's because it's Sunday. They got two weeks' pay yesterday. They can't always drink like this; you'll see."
What was characteristic of most of the houses was that nearly all, although old and badly built of brick or wood, affected an air of coquetry, at least in the painting that embellished the doors and windows. This attracted the eye like a sign. And in truth it was a sign, for in default of other preparations, the bright paint gave a promise of cleanliness which a glance at the inside of the place belied at once.
"We've arrived," said Rosalie, pointing with her free hand to a small red brick house which stood a little way from the road, behind a ragged hedge. Adjoining the house was a store where general provisions were sold, and also liquor. The floors above were rented to the best lodgers, and behind the house was a building which was rented out to the factory hands. A little gate in the hedge led to a small garden planted with apple trees and to a gravel walk leading to the house.
As soon as Rosalie and Perrine entered the yard, a woman, still young, called out from the doorway: "Hurry up, you slow coach! Say, you take a time to go to Picquigny, don't you?"
"That's my Aunt Zenobie," whispered Rosalie; "she's none too nice."
"What yer whispering there?" yelled the disagreeable woman.
"I said that if somebody hadn't been there to help carry this basket I wouldn't be here by now," retorted Rosalie.
"You'd better hold your tongue!"
These words were uttered in such a shrill tone that they brought a tall old woman to the door.
"Who are you going on at now, Zenobie?" she asked, calmly.
"She's mad 'cause I'm late, grandmother; but the basket's awful heavy," said Rosalie.
"There, there!" said the grandmother, placidly; "put it down and go and get your supper; you'll find it kept warm on the stove."
"You wait for me here in the yard," said Rosalie to Perrine; "I'll be out in a minute and we'll have supper together. You go and buy your bread. You'll find the baker in the third house on the left. Hurry up."
When Perrine returned she found Rosalie seated at a table under a big apple tree. On the table were two plates full of meat stew and potatoes.
"Sit down and share my stew," said Rosalie.
"But ..." hesitated Perrine.
"You don't like to take it; you can. I asked my grandmother, and it's all right."
In that case Perrine thought that she should accept this hospitality, so she sat down at the table opposite her new friend.
"And it's all arranged about your lodging here," said Rosalie, with her mouth full of stew. "You've only to give your twenty-eight sous to grandmother. That's where you'll be."
Rosalie pointed to a house a part of which could be seen at the end of the yard; the rest of it was hidden by the brick house. It looked such a dilapidated old place that one wondered how it still held together.
"My grandmother lived there before she built this house," explained Rosalie. "She did it with the money that she got when she was nurse for Monsieur Edmond. You won't be comfortable down there as you would in this house, but factory hands can't live like rich people, can they?"
Perrine agreed that they could not.
At another table, standing a little distance from theirs, a man about forty years of age, grave, stiff, wearing a coat buttoned up and a high hat, was reading a small book with great attention.
"That's Mr. Bendit; he's reading his Bible," whispered Rosalie.
Then suddenly, with no respect for the gentleman's occupation, she said: "Monsieur Bendit, here's a girl who speaks English."
"Ah!" he said, without raising his eyes from his Bible.
Two minutes elapsed before he lifted his eyes and turned them to Perrine.
"Are you an English girl?" he asked in English.
"No, but my mother was," replied Perrine in the same language.
Without another word he went on with his reading.
They were just finishing their supper when a carriage coming along the road stopped at the gate.
"Why, it's Monsieur Vulfran in his carriage!" cried Rosalie, getting up from her seat and running to the gate.
Perrine did not dare leave her place, but she looked towards the road.
Two people were in the buggy. A young man was driving for an old man with white hair, who, although seated, seemed to be very tall. It was M. Paindavoine.
Rosalie went up to the buggy.
"Here is someone," said the young man, who was about to get out.
"Who is it?" demanded M. Paindavoine.
It was Rosalie who replied to this question.
"It's Rosalie, monsieur," she said.
"Tell your grandmother to come and speak to me," said the gentleman.
Rosalie ran to the house and came hurrying back with her grandmother.
"Good day, Monsieur Vulfran," said the old woman.
"Good day, Francoise."
"What can I do for you, sir; I'm at your service."
"I've come about your brother Omer. I've just come from his place. His drunken wife was the only person there and she could not understand anything."
"Omer's gone to Amiens; he comes back tonight."
"Tell him that I have heard that he has rented his hall to some rascals to hold a public meeting and ... I don't wish that meeting to take place."
"But if they've rented it, sir?"
"He can compromise. If he doesn't, the very next day I'll put him out. That's one of the conditions that I made. I'll do what I say. I don't want any meeting of that sort here."
"There have been some at Flexelles."
"Flexelles is not Maraucourt. I do not want the people of my village to become like those at Flexelles. It's my duty to guard against that. You understand? Tell Omer what I say. Good day, Francoise."
"Good day, Monsieur Vulfran."
He fumbled in his vest pocket.
"Where is Rosalie?"
"Here I am, Monsieur Vulfran."
He held out a ten cent piece.
"This is for you," he said.
"Oh, thank you, Monsieur Vulfran," said Rosalie, taking the money with a smile.
The buggy went off.
Perrine had not lost a word of what had been said, but what impressed her more than the actual words was the tone of authority in which they had been spoken. "I don't wish that meeting to take place." She had never heard anyone speak like that before. The tone alone bespoke how firm was the will, but the old gentleman's uncertain, hesitating gestures did not seem to accord with his words.
Rosalie returned to her seat, delighted.
"Monsieur Paindavoine gave me ten cents," she said.
"Yes, I saw him," replied Perrine.
"Let's hope Aunt Zenobie won't know, or she'll take it to keep it for me."
"Monsieur Paindavoine did not seem as though he knew you," said Perrine.
"Not know me? Why, he's my godfather!" exclaimed Rosalie.
"But he said 'Where is Rosalie?' when you were standing quite near him."
"That's because he's blind," answered Rosalie, placidly.
"Blind!" cried Perrine.
She repeated the word quite softly to herself two or three times.
"Has he been blind long?" she asked, in the same awed voice.
"For a long time his sight was failing," replied Rosalie, "but no one paid any attention; they thought that he was fretting over his son being away. Then he got pneumonia, and that left him with a bad cough, and then one day he couldn't see to read, then he went quite blind. Think what it would have meant to the town if he had been obliged to give up his factories! But no; he wasn't going to give them up; not he! He goes to business just the same as though he had his sight. Those who counted on being the master there, 'cause he fell ill have been put in their places." She lowered her voice. "His nephews and Talouel; they're the ones I mean."
Aunt Zenobie came to the door.
"Say, Rosalie, have you finished, you young loafer?" she called.
"I've only just this minute got through," answered Rosalie, defiantly.
"Well, there are some customers to wait on ... come on."
"I'll have to go," said Rosalie, regretfully. "Sorry I can't stay with you."
"Oh, don't mind me," said little Perrine, politely.
"See you tonight."
With a slow, reluctant step Rosalie got up and dragged herself to the house.
ONE SLEEPLESS NIGHT
After her new friend had left, Perrine would like to have still sat at the table as though she were in her own place, but it was precisely because she was not in the place where she belonged that she felt she could not. She had learned that the little garden was reserved for the boarders and that the factory hands were not privileged to sit there. She could not see any seats near the old tumble-down house where she was to lodge, so she left the table and sauntered down the village street.
Although she went at a slow step, she had soon walked down all the streets, and as everyone stared at her, being a stranger, this had prevented her from stopping when she had wanted to.
On the top of the hill opposite the factories she had noticed a wood. Perhaps she would be alone there and could sit down without anyone paying attention to her.
She climbed the hill, then stretched herself out on the grass and looked down over the village ... her father's birthplace, which he had described so often to her mother and herself.
She had arrived at Maraucourt! This name, which she had repeated so often since she had trod on French soil, the name she had seen on the big vans standing outside the Gates of Paris. This was not a country of dreams. She was in Maraucourt; before her she could see the vast works which belonged to her grandfather. He had made his fortune here, bit by bit, sou by sou, until now he was worth millions.
Her eyes wandered from the great chimneys to the railway tracks, where all was quiet on this Sabbath day, to the winding streets and the quaint houses with their tiled or thatched roofs. Amongst the very old houses there was one which seemed more pretentious than the others. It stood in a large garden in which there were great trees and a terrace, and at the remote corner of the garden a wash-house.
That house had been described to her so many times, she recognized it. It was the one in which her grandfather had lived before he had built the beautiful chateau. How many hours her father, when a boy, had spent in that wash-house on washing days, listening to the washerwomen's chatter and to the stories they told, quaint old legends. He had remembered them all those years, and later on had told them to his little daughter. There was the "Fairy of the Cascade", "The Whirling Dwarf", and lots of others. She remembered them all, and her dead father had listened to the old women telling them at that very spot down there by the river.
The sun was in her eyes now, so she changed her place. She found another grassy nook and sat down again, very thoughtful. She was thinking of her future, poor little girl.
She was sure of getting work now, and bread and a place in which to sleep, but that was not all. How would she ever be able to realize her dead mother's hopes? She trembled; it all seemed so difficult; but at least she had accomplished one great thing in having reached Maraucourt.
She must never despair, never give up hope, and now that she had a roof over her head and ten sous a day, although not much, it was far better now for her than a few days ago, when she had been penniless, famished, and had had no place where to lay her head.
She thought it would be wise, as she was beginning a new life on the morrow, that she should make a plan of what she should and what she should not say. But she was so ignorant of everything, and she soon realized that this was a task beyond her. If her mother had reached Maraucourt she would have known just what to have done. But she, poor little girl, had had no experience; she had not the wisdom nor the intelligence of a grown-up person; she was but a child, and alone.
This thought and the memory of her mother brought tears to her eyes. She began to cry unrestrainedly.
"Mother, dear mother," she sobbed.
Then her mother's last words came to her: "I see ... I know that you will be happy!"
Her mother's words might come true. Those who are at Death's door, their souls hovering between Heaven and earth, may have sometimes a divine knowledge of things which are not revealed to the living.
This burst of emotion, instead of making her more despondent, did her good. After she had wiped her tears away she was more hopeful, and it seemed to her that the light evening breeze which fanned her cheek from time to time brought her a kiss from her mother, touching her wet cheeks and whispering to her her last words: "I see ... I know you will be happy."
And why should it not be so? Why should her mother not be near her, leaning over her at this moment like a guardian angel? For a long time she sat deep in thought. Her beautiful little face was very grave. She wondered, would everything come out all right for her in the end?
Then mechanically her eye fell on a large cluster of marguerites. She got up quickly and picked a few, closing her eyes so as not to choose.
She came back to her place and, taking up one with a hand that shook, she commenced to pick off the petals, one at a time, saying: "I shall succeed; a little; a lot; completely; not at all." She repeated this very carefully until there were only a few petals left on the last flower.
How many, she did not want to count, for their number would have told her the answer. So, with a heart beating rapidly, she quickly pulled off the last petals.
"I shall succeed; a little; a lot; completely...."
At the same moment a warm breeze passed over her hair, over her lips. It was surely her mother's reply in a kiss, the tenderest that she had ever given her.
The night fell. She decided to go. Already down the straight road as far as the river white vapors were rising, floating lightly around the great trees. Here and there little lights from behind the windows of the houses pierced the gathering darkness, and vague sounds broke the silence of the peaceful Sabbath evening.
There was no need for her to stay out late now, for she had a roof to cover her and a bed to sleep in; besides, as she was to get up early the next day to go to work, it would be better to go to bed early.
As she walked through the village she recognized that the noises that she had heard came from the cabarets. They were full. Men and women were seated at the tables drinking. From the open door the odor of coffee, hot alcohol and tobacco filled the street as though it were a vast sink.
She passed one cabaret after another. There were so many that to every three houses there was at least one in which liquor was sold. On her tramps along the high roads and through the various towns she had seen many drinking places, but nowhere had she heard such words, so clear and shrill, as those which came confusedly from the low rooms.
When she reached Mother Francoise's garden she saw Mr. Bendit still reading. Before him was a lighted candle, a piece of newspaper protecting the light, around which the moths and mosquitoes flew. But he paid no attention to them, so absorbed was he in his reading.
Yet, as she was passing him, he raised his head and recognized her. For the pleasure of speaking in his own language, he spoke to her in English.
"I hope you'll have a good night's rest," he said.
"Thank you," she replied. "Good night, sir."
"Where have you been?" he continued in English.
"I took a walk as far as the woods," she replied in the same language.
"Yes; I do not know anyone here."
"Then why don't you stay in and read. There is nothing better to do on Sunday than read."
"I have no books."
"Oh! Well, I'll lend you. Good night."
"Good night, sir."
Rosalie was seated in the doorway taking the fresh air.
"Do you want to go to bed now?" she asked.
"Yes, I'd like to," replied Perrine.
"I'll take you up there then, but first you'll have to arrange with grandmother. Go to the cafe; she's there."
The matter, having been arranged by Rosalie and her grandmother beforehand, was quickly settled. Perrine laid her twenty-eight sous on the table and two sous extra for lighting for the week.
"So you are going to stay in our village, little one?" asked Mother Francoise, with a kindly, placid air.
"Yes, if it is possible."
"You can do it if you'll work."
"That is all I ask," replied Perrine.
"Well, that's all right. You won't stop at ten sous; you'll soon get a franc or perhaps two, then later on you'll marry a good workingman who'll earn three. Between you, that'll be five francs a day. With that you're rich ... if you don't drink; but one mustn't drink. It's a good thing that M. Vulfran can give employment to the whole county. There is the land, to be sure, but tilling ground can't provide a living to all who have to be fed."
Whilst the old nurse babbled this advice with the importance and the authority of a woman accustomed to having her word respected, Rosalie was getting some linen from a closet, and Perrine, who, while listening, had been looking at her, saw that the sheets were made of a thick yellow canvas. It was so long since she had slept in sheets that she ought to think herself fortunate to get even these, hard though they were. La Rouquerie on her tramps had never spent money for a bed, and a long time ago the sheets they had in the wagon, with the exception of those kept for her mother, had been sold or worn to rags.
She went with Rosalie across the yard where about twenty men, women and children were seated on a clump of wood or standing about, talking and smoking, waiting for the hour to retire. How could all these people live in the old house, which seemed far from large?
At the sight of the attic, after Rosalie had lit a candle stuck behind a wire trellis, Perrine understood. In a space of six yards long and a little more than three wide, six beds were placed along the length of the walls, and the passage between the beds was only one yard wide. Six people, then, had to spend the night in a place where there was scarcely room for two. Although a little window opened on the yard opposite the door, there was a rank, sharp odor which made Perrine gasp. But she said nothing.
"Well," said Rosalie, "you think it's a bit small, eh?"
"Yes, it is, rather," was all she said.
"Four sous a night is not one hundred sous, you know," remarked Rosalie.
"That is true," answered Perrine, with a smothered sigh.
After all, it was better for her to have a place in this tiny room than be out in the woods and fields. If she had been able to endure the odor in Grain-of-Salt's shack, she would probably be able to bear it here.
"There's your bed," said Rosalie, pointing to one placed near the window.
What she called a bed was a straw mattress placed on four feet and held together by two boards. Instead of a pillow there was a sack.
"You know," said Rosalie, "this is fresh straw; they never give old straw to anyone to sleep on. In the hotels they do that sort of thing, but we don't here."
Although there were too many beds in the little room, there was not one chair.
"There are some nails on the walls," said Rosalie, in reply to Perrine's questioning look; "you can hang your clothes up there."
There were also some boxes and baskets under the bed. If the lodgers had any underwear they could make use of these, but as Perrine had only what she was wearing, the nail at the head of the bed was sufficient.
"They're all honest here," remarked Rosalie, "and if La Noyelle talks in the night it's 'cause she's been drinking; she's a chatterbox. Tomorrow you get up with the others. I'll tell you where you have to go to wash. Good night."
"Good night, and thank you," replied Perrine.
She hurriedly undressed, thankful that she was alone and would not have to submit to the inquisitive regards of the other occupants of the room. But when she was between the sheets she did not feel so comfortable as she had hoped, for they were very rough and hard. But then the ground had seemed very hard the first time she had slept on it, and she had quickly grown accustomed to it.
It was not long before the door was opened and a young girl about fifteen came in and commenced to get undressed. From time to time she glanced at Perrine, but without saying a word. As she was in her Sunday clothes, her disrobing took longer than usual, for she had to put away her best dress in a small box and hang her working clothes on the nail for the next day.
A second girl came in, then a third, then a fourth. There was a babble of tongues, all talking at the same time, each relating what had happened during the day. In the narrow space between the beds they pulled out and pushed back their boxes or baskets, and with each effort came an outburst of impatience and furious upbraidings against the landlady.
"What a hole!"
"She'll be putting another bed in here soon."
"Sure! But I won't stay!"
"Where would yer go? It ain't no better nowhere else."
The complaining, mixed with a desultory chatter, continued. At length, however, when the two who had first arrived were in bed, a little order was established. Soon all the beds were occupied but one.
But even then the conversation did not cease. They had discussed the doings of the day just passed, so now they went on to the next day, to the work at the factories, the quarrels, the doings of the heads of the concern—M. Vulfran Paindavoine and his nephews, whom they called "the kids," and the foreman, Talouel. They spoke of this man by name only once, but the names they called him bespoke better than words what they thought of him.
Perrine experienced a strange contradictory feeling which surprised her. She wanted to hear everything, for this information might be of great importance to her, yet on the other hand she felt embarrassed, almost ashamed, to listen to such talk.
Most of the talk was rather vague to Perrine, not knowing the persons to whom it applied, but she soon gathered that "Skinny", "Judas", and "Sneak" were all one and the same man, and that man was Talouel, the foreman. The factory hands evidently considered him a bully; they all hated him, yet feared him.
"Let's go to sleep," at last said one.
"Yes, why not?"
"La Noyelle hasn't come in yet."
"I saw her outside when I came in."
"How was she?"
"Full. She couldn't stand up."
"Ugh! d'ye think she can get upstairs?"
"Not sure about that."
"Suppose we lock the door?"
"Yes, and what a row she'd make!"
"Like last Sunday; maybe worse."
They groaned. At this moment the sound of heavy shambling footsteps was heard on the stairs.
"Here she is."
The steps stopped, then there was a fall, followed by a moan.
"She's fallen down!"
"Suppose she can't get up?"
"She'd sleep as well on the stairs as here."
"And we'd sleep better."
The moaning continued, interrupted by calls for help.
"Come, Laide," called out a thick voice; "give us a hand, my child."
But Laide did not move. After a time the calls ceased.
"She's gone to sleep. That's luck."
But the drunken girl had not gone to sleep at all; on the contrary, she was using every effort to get up the stairs again.
"Laide, come and give me a hand, child. Laide, Laide," she cried.
She evidently made no progress, for the calls still came from the bottom of the stairs, and became more and more persistent. Finally she began to cry.
"Little Laide, little Laide, come to me," she wailed. "Oh! oh! the stairs are slipping; where am I?"
A burst of laughter came from each bed.
"It's cause yer ain't come in yet, Laide; that's why yer don't come. I'll go and find yer."
"Now she's gone and we'll have some peace," said one.
"No, she'll go to look for Laide and won't find her, and it'll all begin over again. Well never get to sleep."
"Go and give her a hand, Laide," advised one.
"Go yerself," retorted Laide.
"But she wants you."
Laide decided to go, and slipping on her skirt, she went down the stairs.
"Oh, my child, my child," cried La Noyelle, brokenly, when she caught sight of her.
The joy of seeing Laide drove all thoughts of getting upstairs safely away.
"Come with me, little one, and I'll treat you to a glass; come on," urged the drunken creature.
But Laide would not be tempted.
"No, come on to bed," she said.
The woman continued to insist.
They argued for a long time, La Noyelle repeating the words, "a little glass."
"I want to go to sleep," said one of the girls in bed. "How long is this going to keep up? And we got to be up early tomorrow."
"Oh, Lord! and it's like this every Sunday," sighed another.
And little Perrine had thought that if she only had a roof over her head she would be able to sleep in peace! The open fields, with their dark shadows and the chances of bad weather, was far better than this crowded room, reeking with odors that were almost suffocating her. She wondered if she would be able to pass the night in this dreadful room.
The argument was still going on at the foot of the stairs. La Noyelle's voice could be heard repeating "a little glass."
"I'm goin' to help Laide," said one, "or this'll last till tomorrow." The woman got up and went down the narrow stairs. Then came the sound of angry voices, heavy footsteps and blows. The people on the ground floor came out to see what was the matter, and finally everyone in the house was awake.
At last La Noyelle was dragged into the room, crying out in despair.
"What have I done to you that you should be so unkind to me?"
Ignoring her complaints, they undressed her and put her into bed, but even then she did not sleep, but continued to moan and cry.
"What have I done to you girls that you should treat me so badly. I'm very unhappy, and I'm thirsty."
She continued to complain until everyone was so exasperated that they one and all shouted out in anger.
However, she went on all the same. She carried on a conversation with an imaginary person till the occupants of the room were driven to distraction. Now and again her voice dropped as though she were going off to sleep, then suddenly she cried out in a shriller voice, and those who had dropped off into a slumber awoke with a start and frightened her badly, but despite their anger she would not stop.
Perrine wondered if it really was to be like that every Sunday. How could they put up with her? Was there no place in Maraucourt where one could sleep peacefully?
It was not alone the noise that disturbed her, but the air was now so stifling that she could scarcely breathe.
At last La Noyelle was quiet, or rather it was only a prolonged snore that came from her lips.
But although all was silent Perrine could not sleep. She was oppressed. It seemed as though a hammer was beating on her forehead, and she was perspiring from head to foot.
It was not to be wondered at. She was suffocating for want of air; and if the other girls in the room were not stifled like her, it was because they were accustomed to this atmosphere, which to one who was in the habit of sleeping in the open air was unbearable.
But she thought that if they could endure it she should. But unfortunately one does not breathe as one wishes, nor when one wishes. If she closed her mouth she could not get enough air into her lungs.
What was going to happen to her? She struggled up in bed, tearing at the paper which replaced the window pane against which her bed was placed. She tore away the paper, doing so as quietly as possible so as not to wake the girls beside her. Then putting her mouth to the opening she leaned her tired little head on the window sill. Finally in sheer weariness she fell asleep.
THE HUT ON THE ISLAND
When she awoke a pale streak of light fell across the window, but it was so feeble that it did not lighten the room. Outside the cocks were crowing. Day was breaking.
A chill, damp air was penetrating through the opening she had made in the window, but in spite of that the bad odor in the room still remained. It was dreadful!
Yet all the girls slept a deep slumber, only broken now and again with a stifled moan.
Very quietly she got up and dressed. Then taking her shoes in her hands she crept down the stairs to the door. She put on her shoes and went out.
Oh! the fresh, delicious air! Never had she taken a breath with such thankfulness. She went through the little yard with her mouth wide open, her nostrils quivering, her head thrown back. The sound of her footsteps awoke a dog, which commenced to bark; then several other dogs joined in.
But what did that matter? She was no longer a little tramp at whom dogs were at liberty to bark. If she wished to leave her bed she had a perfect right to do so; she had paid out money for it.
The yard was too small for her present mood; she felt she must move about. She went out onto the road and walked straight ahead without knowing where.
The shades of night still filled the roads, but above her head she saw the dawn already whitening the tops of the trees and the roofs of the houses. In a few minutes it would be day. At this moment the clang of a bell broke the deep silence. It was the factory clock striking three. She still had three more hours before going to work.
How should she pass the time? She could not keep walking until six, she would be too tired; so she would find a place where she could sit down and wait.
The sky was gradually getting brighter, and round about her various forms were taking a concrete shape.
At the end of a glade she could see a small hut made of branches and twigs which was used by the game keepers during the winter. She thought that if she could get to the hut she would be hidden there and no one would see her and inquire what she was doing out in the fields at that early hour.
She found a small trail, barely traced, which seemed to lead to the hut. She took it, and although it led her straight in the direction of the little cabin, she had not reached it when the path ended, for it was built upon a small island upon which grew three weeping willows. Around it was a ditch full of water. Fortunately, the trunk of a tree had been thrown across the ditch. Although it was not very straight, and was wet with the morning dew, which made it very slippery, Perrine was not deterred from crossing.
She managed to get across, and soon found herself before the door of the little hut, which she only had to push to open.
Oh, what a pretty nest! The hut was square, and from roof to floor was lined inside with ferns. There was a little opening on each of the four sides, which from without was invisible, but from within one could gain a good view of the surrounding country. On the ground was a thick bed of ferns, and in one of the corners a bench made from the trunk of a tree.
How delightful! And how little it resembled the room she had just left! How much better it would be for her if she could sleep here in the fresh air, sleeping in peace amongst the ferns, with no other noise but the rustling of the leaves and the ripple of the water.
How much better to be here than lying between Mother Francoise's hard sheets, listening to the complaints of La Noyelle and her friends in that dreadful atmosphere which even now seemed to assail her nostrils.
She laid down on the ferns, curled up in a corner against the soft walls covered with reeds, then closed her eyes. Before long she felt a soft numbness creeping over her. She jumped to her feet, fearing that she might drop off to sleep and not awake before it was time for her to go to the factory.
The sun had now risen, and through the aperture facing east a streak of gold entered the hut. Outside the birds were singing, and all over the tiny island, on the pond, on the branches of the weeping willows, was heard a confusion of sounds, twittering and little shrill cries which announced an awakening to life. Looking out of the window, she could see the birds picking at the humid earth with their beaks, snapping at the worms. Over the pond floated a light mist. A wild duck, far prettier than the tame ducks, was swimming on the water, surrounded with her young. She tried to keep them beside her with continual little quacks, but she found it impossible to do so. The ducklings escaped from the mother duck, scurrying off amongst the reeds to search for the insects which came within their reach.
Suddenly a quick blue streak, like lightning, flashed before Perrine's eyes. It was not until it had disappeared that she realized that it was a kingfisher which had just crossed the pond. For a long time, standing quite still for fear a movement might betray her presence and cause the birds to fly away, she stood at the opening looking out at them. How pretty it all was in the morning light, gay, alive, amusing, something new to look upon.
Now and again she saw dark shadows pass capriciously over the pond. The shadows grew larger without apparent cause, covering the pond. She could not understand this, for the sun, which had risen above the horizon, was shining in the sky without a cloud. How did these shadows come?
She went to the door and saw a thick black smoke coming from the factory chimneys.
Work would commence very soon; it was time to leave the hut. As she was about to go she picked up a newspaper from the seat that she had not noticed before in the dim light. The newspaper was dated February 2. Then this thought came to her: This newspaper was on the only spot in the place where one could sit down, and the date of it was several months previous, so then this proved that the hut had been abandoned and no one had passed through the door since last February.
WORK IN THE FACTORY
When she reached the road a loud whistle was heard, shrill and powerful. Almost immediately other whistles replied from the distance. This was the call for the factory hands who lived in Maraucourt, and the other whistles repeated the summons to work from village to village, St. Pipoy, Harcheux, Racour, Flexelles, in all the Paindavoine factories, announcing to the owner of the vast works that everywhere, at the same time, his factories were calling to his employes to be ready for the day's work.
Fearing she might be late she ran as far as the village. There she found all the doors of the houses open. On the thresholds the men were eating their soups or leaning against the walls; others were in the cabarets drinking wine; others were washing at the pump in the yard. No one seemed to be going to work, so evidently it was not time yet, so Perrine thought that there was no occasion for her to hurry.
But before long a louder whistle was blown, and then there was a general movement everywhere; from houses, yards and taverns came a dense crowd, filling the street. Men, women and children went towards the factories, some smoking their pipes, others munching a crust of bread, the greater number chattering loudly. In one of the groups Perrine caught sight of Rosalie in company with La Noyelle. She joined them.
"Why, where have you been?" asked Rosalie in surprise.
"I got up early so as to take a walk," Perrine replied.
"You did? I went to look for you."
"Oh, thank you; but never do that, for I get up very early," said Perrine.
Upon arriving at the factory the crowd went into the various workshops under the watchful eye of a tall thin man who stood near the iron gates, his hand in the pocket of his coat, his straw hat stuck on the back of his head. His sharp eyes scanned everyone who passed.
"That's Skinny," informed Rosalie in a whisper.
Perrine did not need to be told this. She seemed to know at once that this was the foreman Talouel.
"Do I come in with you?" asked Perrine.
This was a decisive moment for little Perrine, but she controlled her nervousness and drew herself up to her full height. Why should they not take her if they took everyone?
Rosalie drew Perrine out of the crowd, then went up to Talouel.
"Monsieur," she said, "here's a friend of mine who wants a job."
Talouel glanced sharply at the friend.
"In a moment ... we'll see," he replied curtly.
Rosalie, who knew what to do, signed to Perrine to stand aside and wait. At this moment there was a slight commotion at the gates, and the crowd drew aside respectfully to allow Monsieur Paindavoine's carriage to pass. The same young man who had driven him the evening before was now driving. Although everyone knew that their chief, Vulfran Paindavoine, was blind, all the men took off their hats as he passed and the women curtseyed.
"You see he's not the last one to come," said Rosalie, as the phaeton passed through the gates, "but his nephews likely will be late."
The clock struck, then a few late comers came running up. A young man came hurrying along, arranging his tie as he ran.
"Good morning, Talouel," he said; "is uncle here yet?"
"Yes, Monsieur Theodore," said the foreman, "he got here a good five minutes ago."
"You're not the last, though. Monsieur Casimir is late also. I can see him coming now."
As Theodore went towards the offices his cousin Casimir came up hurriedly.
The two cousins were not at all alike, either in their looks or ways. Casimir gave the foreman a short nod, but did not say a word.
"What can your friend do?" asked Talouel, turning to Rosalie, his hands still in his pockets.
Perrine herself replied to this question.
"I have not worked in a factory before," she said in a voice that she tried to control.
Talouel gave her a sharp look, then turned again to Rosalie.
"Tell Oneux to put her with the trucks. Now be off. Hurry up!"
Thus dismissed, Rosalie hurried Perrine away.
"What are the trucks?" asked little Perrine as she followed her friend through the big courtyard. She wondered, poor child, if she had the strength and the intelligence to do what was required of her.
"Oh, it's easy enough," replied Rosalie, lightly. "Don't be afraid; you've only got to load the trucks."
"And when it's full," continued Rosalie, "you push it along to the place where they empty it. You give a good shove to begin with, then it'll go all alone."
As they passed down the corridors they could scarcely hear each other speak for the noise of the machinery. Rosalie pushed open the door of one of the workshops and took Perrine into a long room. There was a deafening roar from the thousand tiny machines, yet above the noise they could hear a man calling out: "Ah, there you are, you loafer!"
"Who's a loafer, pray?" retorted Rosalie. "That ain't me, just understand that, Father Ninepins."
"What have you been doin'?"
"Skinny told me to bring my friend to you to work on the trucks."
The one whom she had addressed in this amiable manner was an old man with a wooden leg. He had lost his leg in the factory twelve years previous, hence his nickname, "Ninepins." He now had charge of a number of girls whom he treated rudely, shouting and swearing at them. The working of these machines needed as much attention of the eye as deftness of hand in lifting up the full spools and replacing them with empty ones, and fastening the broken thread. He was convinced that if he did not shout and swear at them incessantly, emphasizing each curse with a stout bang of his wooden leg on the floor, he would see his machines stop, which to him was intolerable. But as he was a good man at heart, no one paid much attention to him, and besides, the greater part of his cursing was lost in the noise of the machinery.
"Yes, and with it all, your machine has stopped," cried Rosalie triumphantly, shaking her fist at him.
"Go on with you," he shouted back; "that ain't my fault."
"What's your name?" he added, addressing Perrine.
This request, which she ought to have foreseen, for only the night before Rosalie had asked the same question, made her start. As she did not wish to give her real name, she stood hesitating. Old Ninepins thought that she had not heard, and banging his wooden leg on the floor again, he cried:
"I asked you what your name was, didn't I? Eh?"
She had time to collect herself and to recall the one that she had already given to Rosalie.
"Aurelie," she said.
"Aurelie what?" he demanded.
"That is all ... just Aurelie," she replied.
"All right, Aurelie; come on with me," he said.
He took her to a small truck stationed in a far corner and explained what she had to do, the same as Rosalie had.
"Do you understand?" he shouted several times.
And really what she had to do was so simple that she would indeed have been stupid if she had been unable to do it. She gave all her attention to the task, but every now and again old Ninepins called after her:
"Now, don't play on the way." But this was more to warn than to scold her.
She had no thought of playing, but as she pushed her truck with a good regular speed, while not stopping, she was able to see what was going on on the way. One push started the truck, and all she had to do was to see that there were no obstacles in its way.
At luncheon time each girl hurried to her home. Perrine went to the baker's and got the baker to cut her a half a pound of bread, which she ate as she walked the streets, smelling the while the good odor of the soup which came from the open doors before which she passed. She walked slowly when she smelled a soup that she liked. She was rather hungry, and a half a pound of bread is not much, so it disappeared quickly.
Long before the time for her to go back to work she was at the gates. She sat down on a bench in the shade of a tree and waited for the whistle, watching the boys and girls playing, running and jumping. She was too timid to join in their games, although she would like to have done so.
When Rosalie came she went back to her work with her.
Before the day was ended she was so tired that she did indeed merit Ninepins' sharp rebuke.
"Go on! Can't you go faster than that?" he cried.
Startled by the bang from his wooden leg which accompanied his words, she stepped out like a horse under the lash of a whip, but only to slow up the moment she was out of his sight. Her shoulders ached, her arms ached, her head ached. At first it had seemed so easy to push the truck, but to have to keep at it all day was too much for her. All she wanted now was for the day to end. Why could she not do as much as the others? Some of them were not so old as she, and yet they did not appear tired. Perhaps when she was accustomed to the work she would not feel so exhausted.
She reasoned thus as she wearily pushed her loaded truck, glancing at the others with envy as they briskly went on with their work. Suddenly she saw Rosalie, who was fastening some threads, fall down beside the girl who was next to her. At the same time a girlish cry of anguish was heard.
The machinery was stopped at once. All was silent now, the silence only broken by a moan. Boys and girls, in fact everyone, hurried towards Rosalie, despite the sharp words from old Ninepins. "Thunder in Heaven, the machines have stopped. What's the matter?" he cried.
The girls crowded around Rosalie and lifted her to her feet.
"What's the matter?" they asked.
"It's my hand," she murmured; "I caught it in the machine. Oh!..."
Her face was very pale, her lips bloodless. Drops of blood were falling from her crushed hand. But upon examining it, it was found that only two fingers were hurt, one probably broken.
Ninepins, who at first had felt pity for the girl, now began pushing those who surrounded her back to their places.
"Be off; go back to your work," he cried. "A lot of fuss about nothing."
"Yes; it was a lot of fuss for nothing when you broke your leg, wasn't it?" cried out a voice.
He glanced about to see who had spoken, but it was impossible to find out in the crowd. Then he shouted again:
"Get back to your work. Hurry up!"
Slowly they dispersed and Perrine, like the others, was on her way back to her truck, when Ninepins called to her:
"Here, you new one, there; come here! Come on, quicker than that."
She came back timidly, wondering why she was more guilty than the others who had also left their work. But she found that he did not wish to punish her.
"Take that young fool there to the foreman," he said.
"What do you call me a fool for?" cried Rosalie, raising her voice, for already the machines were in motion. "It wasn't my fault, was it?"
"Sure, it was your fault, clumsy." Then he added in a softer tone:
"Does it hurt?"
"Not so very much," replied Rosalie bravely.
"Well, go on home; be off now."
Rosalie and Perrine went out together, Rosalie holding her wounded hand, which was the left, in her right hand.
"Won't you lean on me, Rosalie?" asked little Perrine anxiously. "I am sure it must be dreadful."
"No, I'm all right; thank you," said Rosalie. "At least I can walk."
"Well, then, it isn't much then, is it?" asked Perrine.
"One can't tell the first day. It's later that one suffers. I slipped, that's how it happened."
"You must have been getting tired," said Perrine, thinking of her own feelings.
"Sure, it's always when one is tired that one is caught," said Rosalie. "We are quick and sharp first thing in the morning. I wonder what Aunt Zenobie will say!"
"But it wasn't your fault," insisted Perrine.
"I know that," said Rosalie, ruefully. "Grandmother will believe that, but Aunt Zenobie won't. She'll say it's 'cause I don't want to work."
On their way through the building several men stopped them to ask what was the matter. Some pitied Rosalie, but most of them listened indifferently, as though they were used to such accidents. They said that it was always so: one gets hurt the same as one falls sick; just a matter of chance, each in his turn, you today, and me tomorrow. But there were some who showed anger that such an accident could have occurred.
They came to a small outside building which was used for offices. They had to mount some wide steps which led to a porch. Talouel was standing on the porch, walking up and down with his hands in his pockets, his hat on his head. He seemed to be taking a general survey, like a captain on the bridge.
"What's the matter now?" he cried, angrily, when he saw the two girls.
Rosalie showed him her bleeding hand.
"Wrap your paw up in your handkerchief then," he said, roughly.
With Perrine's aid she got her handkerchief out of her pocket. Talouel strode up and down the porch. After the handkerchief had been twisted around the wounded hand he came over to poor Rosalie and stood towering above her.
"Empty your pockets," he ordered. She looked at him, not understanding.
"I say, take everything out of your pockets," he said again.
She did what she was told, and drew from her pockets an assortment of things—a whistle made from a nut, some bones, a thimble, a stick of liquorice, three cents, and a little mirror.
The bully at once seized the mirror.
"Ah, I was sure of it," he cried. "While you were looking at yourself in the glass a thread broke and your spool stopped. You tried to catch the time lost and that's how it happened."
"I did not look in my glass," said Rosalie.
"Bah! you're all the same. I know you. Now: what's the trouble?"
"I don't know, but my hand is crushed," said poor Rosalie, trying to keep back her tears.
"Well, and what do you want me to do?"
"Father Ninepins told me to come to you," said Rosalie.
"And you ... what's the matter with you?" he asked, turning to Perrine.
"Nothing," she replied, disconcerted.
"Father Ninepins told her to bring me here," said Rosalie.
"Well, she can take you to Dr. Ruchon and let him see it. But I'm going to look into this matter and find out if it is your fault, and if it is ... look out!"
He spoke in a loud, bullying voice which could be heard throughout the offices.
As the two girls were about to go M. Vulfran Paindavoine appeared, guiding himself with his hand along the wall.
"What's it all about, Talouel? What's the matter here?"
"Nothing much, sir," replied the foreman. "One of the girls has hurt her hand."
"Where is she?"
"Here I am, Monsieur Vulfran," said Rosalie, going up to him.
"Why, it's Mother Francoise's granddaughter, Rosalie, isn't it?" asked the blind man.
"Yes, it's me, Monsieur Vulfran," said Rosalie, beginning to cry. Harsh words had hardened her heart, but this tone of pity was too much for poor Rosalie.
"What is the matter with your hand, my poor girl?" asked the blind man.
"Oh, sir, I think my two fingers are broken," she said, "although I am not in much pain."
"Well, why are you crying?" asked M. Vulfran, tenderly.
"Because you speak so kindly to me."
Talouel shrugged his shoulders.
"Now go home at once," said M. Vulfran, "and I'll send the doctor to you."
"Write a note to Dr. Ruchon," he said, turning to Talouel, "and tell him to call at Mother Francoise's house; say that the matter is urgent and he must go there at once."
"Do you want anyone to go with you?" he asked, addressing Rosalie.
"Oh, thank you, Monsieur Vulfran; I have a friend here with me," she replied.
"She can go with you then, and tell your grandmother that you will be paid while you are away."
It was Perrine now who felt like crying, but catching Talouel's glance, she stiffened. It was not until they had passed out of the yard that she betrayed her emotion.
"Isn't Monsieur Vulfran kind?" she said.
"Yes," replied Rosalie; "he would be all right if he were alone, but with Skinny he can't be; he hasn't the time and he has a lot to think about."
"Well, he seemed very kind to you," said little Perrine.
"Oh, yes," Rosalie said, drawing herself up; "I make him think of his son. My mother was Monsieur Edmond's foster sister."
"Does he think of his son?"
"He thinks of nothing else."
Everybody came to their doors as Rosalie and Perrine passed. Rosalie's handkerchief was covered with blood. Most of the people were merely curious, others felt sorry, others were angry, knowing that what had happened to this girl that day might happen the next day, at any moment, to their fathers, husbands, and children. Was not everyone in Maraucourt employed at the factory?
"You come on in with me," said Rosalie, when they reached the house; "then perhaps Aunt Zenobie won't say much."
But Perrine's presence had no effect upon the terrible aunt. Seeing Rosalie arrive at such an unusual hour, and noticing that her hand was wrapped up, she cried out shrilly: "Now, then, you've gone and hurt yourself, you lazy bones. I bet you did it on purpose."
"Oh, I'm goin' to be paid," retorted Rosalie, scornfully.
"You think so, do you?"
"Monsieur Vulfran told me that I should."
But this information did not appease Aunt Zenobie. She continued to scold until Mother Francoise, leaving her store, came to see what was the matter. But the old grandmother, instead of showing anger, put her arms about Rosalie and said: "Oh, my dearie; you've gone and got hurt."
"Just a little, grandmother ... it's my fingers ... but it ain't much."
"We must have Dr. Ruchon."
"Monsieur Vulfran is going to send him here."
Perrine was about to follow them into the house when Aunt Zenobie turned upon her and stopped her.
"What are you coming for?" she asked. "Do you think we need you to look after her?"
"Thank you for coming," called out Rosalie to Perrine.
Perrine had nothing to do but to return to the factory, which she did. But just as she reached the gates a whistle announced that it was closing time.
A dozen times during the day she had asked herself how she could possibly sleep in that room where she had been almost suffocated. She was sure that she would not be able to sleep any better that night, or the next, or the next.
And if she could not find rest after a hard day's work, whatever would happen to her?
In her little mind she weighed all the consequences of this terrible question. If she had not the strength to do her work she would be sent away from the factory, and that would be the end of all her hopes. She would be ill and there would be no one to help her, and she would have to lie down at the foot of a tree and die.
It is true that unless she wished she was not obliged to occupy the bed that she had paid for, but where would she find another, and what would she say to Rosalie? How could she say in a nice way that what was good for others was not good for her, and when they knew how disgusted she had been, how would they treat her? She might create such ill feeling that she would be forced to leave the factory.
The day had passed without her having come to a decision.
But now that Rosalie had hurt her hand the situation was changed. Poor Rosalie would probably have to stay in bed for several days, and she would not know what happened in the house at the end of the yard. She would not know who slept in the room or who did not; consequently she need fear no questions. And, on the other hand, as none of the girls in the room knew who the new lodger for the night had been, neither would they bother about her; it might very well be someone who had decided to find a lodging elsewhere.
Reasoning thus, she decided quickly that she would go and sleep in her new little home. How good it would be to sleep there—nothing to fear from anyone, a roof to cover her head, without counting the enjoyment of living in a house of one's own.
The matter was quite decided, and after having been to the baker's to buy another half a pound of bread for her supper, instead of returning to Mother Francoise's she again took the road that she had taken early that morning.
She slipped behind the hedge as the factory hands who lived outside Maraucourt came tramping along the road on their way home. She did not wish to be seen by them. While she waited for them to pass she gathered a quantity of rushes and ferns and made a broom. Her new home was clean and comfortable, but with a little attention it could be made more so, and she would pick a lot of dried ferns and make a good soft bed to lie upon.
Forgetting her fatigue, she quickly tied the broom together with some wisps of straw and fastened it to a stick. No less quickly a bunch of ferns was arranged in a mass so that she could easily carry them to her hut.
The road was now deserted as far as she could see. Hoisting the bed of ferns on her back and taking the broom in her hands, she ran down the hill and across the road. When she came to the narrow path she had to slacken her speed, for the ferns caught in the branches and she could not pass without going down on her knees.
Upon arriving at the island, she began at once to do her housework. She threw away the old ferns, then commenced to sweep everywhere, the roof, the walls and the ground.
As she looked out over the pond and saw the reeds growing thickly, a bright idea came to her. She needed some shoes. One does not go about a deserted island in leather shoes. She knew how to plait, and she would make a pair of soles with the reeds and get a little canvas for the tops and tie them on with ribbon.
As soon as she had finished her sweeping she ran out to the pond and picked a quantity of the most flexible reeds and carried them back to the door of her hut and commenced to work. But after she had made a plait of reeds about a yard long she found that this sole that she was making would be too light; because it was too hollow, there would be no solidity, and that before plaiting the reeds they would have to undergo a preparation which in crushing the fibres would transform them into coarse strings.
However, this did not stop her. Now she needed a hammer, of course she could not find one, but what she did find was a big round stone, which served her purpose very well indeed. Then she commenced to beat the reeds. Night came on while she was still at work, and she went to sleep dreaming of the beautiful sandals tied with blue ribbons which she would have, for she did not doubt but that she would succeed with what she had undertaken ... if not the first time, well, then the second or the third ... or the tenth.
By the next evening she had plaited enough to begin the soles, and the following day, having bought a curved awl for the price of one sou, some thread for one sou, a piece of ribbon for the same price, a small piece of rough canvas for four sous, in all seven sous, which was all that she could spend if she did not wish to go without bread on the Saturday, she tried to make a sole like those worn on shoes. The first one that she made was almost round. This was not exactly the shape of the foot. The second one, to which she gave much more attention, seemed to resemble nothing at all; the third was a little better, but finally the fourth, which, with some practice, she had managed to tighten in the center and draw in at the heel, could pass for a sole.
Once more she had proved that with a little perseverance, a little will, one can do what one wants, even if at first it seems impossible. And she had done this with scarcely anything, a few sous, with no tools, with hardly anything at her command. She was really very happy and she considered that her work was very successful.
Now what she needed most to finish her sandals were scissors. They would cost so much to buy she would have to manage without them. Fortunately she had her knife, and with the help of a stone to sharpen the point she could make it fine enough to trim the canvas.
But the cutting of the pieces of canvas she found quite a difficult matter. Finally she accomplished it, and on the following Saturday morning she had the satisfaction of going forth shod in a nice pair of gray canvas shoes, tied with blue ribbons crossed over her stockings.
While she had been working on her shoes (the work had taken four evenings and three mornings beginning at the break of day), she had wondered what she should do with her leather shoes while she was away from the hut. She had no fear that they would be stolen by anyone, for no one came to the place, but then the rats might eat them. So as to prevent this she would put them in a place where the rats could not get at them.
This was a rather difficult matter, for the rats seemed to be everywhere. She had no closet, no box to put them away in. Finally she tied them to the roof with some wisps of straw.
Although she was very proud of her shoes, she was rather anxious as to how she would conduct herself while wearing them at work. While she loaded her truck or pushed it along she was continually looking down at her feet.
By doing so she would probably attract the attention of the other girls. This is exactly what did happen. Several of her comrades noticed them and complimented her.
"Where did you buy those shoes?" one asked.
"They are not shoes; they are sandals," corrected Perrine.
"No, they are not; they are shoes," said the girl; "but whatever they are they sure are pretty. Where did you buy them?"
"I made them myself with plaited reeds and four cents worth of canvas," replied Perrine.
"They are beautiful."
The success she had made of her shoes decided her to undertake another task. She had thought several times of doing it, but it was much more difficult, or so she thought, and might mean too much expense. She wanted to make a chemise to replace the only one which she possessed. For it was very inconvenient to take off this only garment to wash it and then wait until it was dry to put it on again. She needed two yards of calico, and she wondered how much it would cost. And how would she cut the goods when she had them? These were very difficult questions to answer. She certainly had something to think about.
She wondered if it would not be wiser to begin by making a print dress to replace her waist and skirt, which was worn more than ever now, as she had to sleep in it. It could last a very little while longer. When it was finished, how would she go out? For her daily bread, as much as for the success of her future plans, she must continue to be admitted to the factory.
Yet on the Saturday evening when she had the three francs in her hand which she had earned for the week's work, she could not resist the temptation of a chemise. She still considered a waist and skirt of the utmost utility, but then a chemise also was indispensable, and besides there were many arguments in favor of the chemise—cleanliness in which she had been brought up, self-respect. Finally the chemise won the day. She would mend her waist and skirt; as the material had formerly been very strong, it would still hold a few more darns.