Transcriber's Note: Some spelling variations have been standardised to agree with the original French version of "En Famille". For example "Madamoiselle" and "Mademoiselle" have been changed to Mademoiselle exclusively. Dr Cendrier, rather than Centrier, is correct according to the original French version, so Centrier has been changed to Cendrier.
In the fourth last paragraph "daughter" has been corrected to "granddaughter".
Some spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors have been corrected where detected.
BY HECTOR MALOT
TRANSLATED BY FLORENCE CREWE-JONES
Illustrated by THELMA GOOCH
NEW YORK MCMXXII CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY
Copyright, 1922, by CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY
Printed in United States of America
I PERRINE AND PALIKARE 1
II GRAIN-OF-SALT IS KIND 20
III "POOR LITTLE GIRL" 41
IV A HARD ROAD TO TRAVEL 47
V STORMS AND FEARS 59
VI THE RESCUE 72
VII MARAUCOURT AT LAST 77
VIII GRANDFATHER VULFRAN 86
IX ONE SLEEPLESS NIGHT 95
X THE HUT ON THE ISLAND 110
XI WORK IN THE FACTORY 115
XII NEW SHOES 130
XIII STRANGE HOUSEKEEPING 136
XIV A BANQUET IN THE HUT 149
XV AURELIE'S CHANCE 157
XVI GRANDFATHER'S INTERPRETER 166
XVII HARD QUESTIONS 175
XVIII SECRETARY TO M. VULFRAN 184
XIX SUSPICION AND CONFIDENCE 194
XX THE SCHEMERS 206
XXI LETTERS FROM DACCA 217
XXII A CABLE TO DACCA 227
XXIII GRANDFATHER'S COMPANION 238
XXIV GETTING AN EDUCATION 248
XXV MEDDLING RELATIVES 260
XXVI PAINFUL ARGUMENTS 269
XXVII THE BLIND MAN'S GRIEF 277
XXVIII AN UNRESPECTED FUNERAL 285
XXIX THE ANGEL OF REFORM 292
XXX GRANDFATHER FINDS PERRINE 302
XXXI THE GRATEFUL PEOPLE 307
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS PAGE
"WHY, IT'S BEAUTIFUL," SAID PERRINE, SOFTLY. (See Page 86) Frontispiece
SOMETHING WARM PASSING OVER HER FACE MADE HER OPEN HER EYES 72
"WHAT'S THE MATTER NOW?" HE CRIED, ANGRILY 124
SHE HAD SOME TIME AGO DECIDED ON THE SHAPE 139
SHE TRIED TO DO AS SHE WAS TOLD, BUT HER EMOTION INCREASED AS SHE READ 218
HE TOLD HER THAT SHE WAS LIKE A LITTLE DAUGHTER TO HIM 270
"Nobody's Girl," published in France under the title "En Famille", follows "Nobody's Boy" as a companion juvenile story, and takes place with it as one of the supreme juvenile stories of the world. Like "Nobody's Boy" it was also crowned by the Academy, and that literary judgment has also been verified by the test of time.
"Nobody's Girl" is not a human document, such as is "Nobody's Boy", because it has more story plot, and the adventure is in a more restricted field, but it discloses no less the nobility of a right-minded child, and how loyalty wins the way to noble deeds and life. This is another beautiful literary creation of Hector Malot which every one can recommend as an ennobling book, of interest not only to childhood, page by page to the thrilling conclusion, but to every person who loves romance and character.
Only details, irrelevant for readers in America, have been eliminated. Little Perrine's loyal ideals, with their inspiring sentiments, are preserved by her through the most discouraging conditions, and are described with the simplicity for which Hector Malot is famous. The building up of a little girl's life is made a fine example for every child. Every reader of this story leaves it inspired for the better way.
PERRINE AND PALIKARE
It was Saturday afternoon about 3 o'clock. There was the usual scene; outside the Gates of Bercy there was a crowd of people, and on the quays, four rows deep, carts and wagons were massed together. Coal carts, carts heaped with hay and straw, all were waiting in the clear, warm June sunshine for the examination from the custom official. All had been hurrying to reach Paris before Sunday.
Amongst the wagons, but at some little distance from the Gates, stood an odd looking cart, a sort of caravan. Over a light frame work which was erected on four wheels was stretched a heavy canvas; this was fastened to the light roof which covered the wagon. Once upon a time the canvas might have been blue, but it was so faded, so dirty and worn, that one could only guess what its original color had been. Neither was it possible to make out the inscriptions which were painted on the four sides. Most of the words were effaced. On one side there was a Greek word, the next side bore part of a German word, on the third side were the letters F I A, which was evidently Italian, and on the last a newly painted French word stood out boldly. This was PHOTOGRAPHIE, and was evidently the translation of all the others, indicating the different countries through which the miserable wagon had come before it had entered France and finally arrived at the Gates of Paris.
Was it possible that the donkey that was harnessed to it had brought the cart all this distance? At first glance it seemed impossible, but although the animal was tired out, one could see upon a closer view that it was very robust and much bigger than the donkeys that one sees in Europe. Its coat was a beautiful dark grey, the beauty of which could be seen despite the dust which covered it. Its slender legs were marked with jet black lines, and worn out though the poor beast was, it still held its head high. The harness, worthy of the caravan, was fastened together with various colored strings, short pieces, long pieces, just what was at hand at the moment; the strings had been carefully hidden under the flowers and branches which had been gathered along the roads and used to protect the animal from the sun and the flies.
Close by, seated on the edge of the curb, watching the donkey, was a little girl of about thirteen years of age. Her type was very unusual, but it was quite apparent that there was a mixture of race. The pale blond of her hair contrasted strangely with the deep, rich coloring of her cheeks, and the sweet expression of her face was accentuated by the dark, serious eyes. Her mouth also was very serious. Her figure, slim and full of grace, was garbed in an old, faded check dress, but the shabby old frock could not take away the child's distinguished air.
As the donkey had stopped just behind a large cart of straw, it would not have required much watching, but every now and again he pulled out the straw, in a cautious manner, like a very intelligent animal that knows quite well that it is doing wrong.
"Palikare! stop that!" said the girl for the third time.
The donkey again dropped his head in a guilty fashion, but as soon as he had eaten his wisps of straw he began to blink his eyes and agitate his ears, then again discreetly, but eagerly, tugged at what was ahead of him; this in a manner that testified to the poor beast's hunger.
While the little girl was scolding him, a voice from within the caravan called out:
Jumping to her feet, the child lifted up the canvas and passed inside, where a pale, thin woman was lying on a mattress.
"Do you need me, mama?"
"What is Palikare doing, dear?" asked the woman.
"He is eating the straw off the cart that's ahead of us."
"You must stop him."
"He's so hungry."
"Hunger is not an excuse for taking what does not belong to us. What will you say to the driver of that cart if he's angry?"
"I'll go and see that Palikare doesn't do it again," said the little girl.
"Shall we soon be in Paris?"
"Yes, we are waiting for the customs."
"Have we much longer to wait?"
"No, but are you in more pain, mother?"
"Don't worry, darling; it's because I'm closed in here," replied the woman, gasping. Then she smiled wanly, hoping to reassure her daughter.
The woman was in a pitiable plight. All her strength had gone and she could scarcely breathe. Although she was only about twenty-nine years of age, her life was ebbing away. There still remained traces of remarkable beauty: Her head and hair were lovely, and her eyes were soft and dark like her daughter's.
"Shall I give you something?" asked Perrine.
"There are some shops near by. I can buy a lemon. I'll come back at once."
"No, keep the money. We have so little. Go back to Palikare and stop him from eating the straw."
"That's not easy," answered the little girl.
She went back to the donkey and pushed him on his haunches until he was out of reach of the straw in front of him.
At first the donkey was obstinate and tried to push forward again, but she spoke to him gently and stroked him, and kissed him on his nose; then he dropped his long ears with evident satisfaction and stood quite still.
There was no occasion to worry about him now, so she amused herself with watching what was going on around her.
A little boy about her own age, dressed up like a clown, and who evidently belonged to the circus caravans standing in the rear, had been strolling round her for ten long minutes, without being able to attract her attention. At last he decided to speak to her.
"That's a fine donkey," he remarked.
She did not reply.
"It don't belong to this country. If it does, I'm astonished."
She was looking at him, and thinking that after all he looked rather like a nice boy, she thought she would reply.
"He comes from Greece," she said.
"Greece!" he echoed.
"That's why he's called Palikare."
"Ah! that's why."
But in spite of his broad grin he was not at all sure why a donkey that came from Greece should be called Palikare.
"Is it far ... Greece?"
"Farther than ... China?"
"No, but it's a long way off."
"Then yer come from Greece, then?"
"No, farther than that."
"No, but Palikare's the only one that comes from Greece."
"Are you going to the Fair?"
"Where yer goin'?"
"I know that, but where yer goin' to put up that there cart?"
"We've been told that there are some free places round the fortifications."
The little clown slapped his thighs with his two hands.
"The fortifications: Oh la la!"
"Isn't there any place?"
"It ain't the place for you ... round the fortifications! Have yer got any men with yer? Big strong men who are not afraid of a stab from a dagger. One who can give a jab as well as take one."
"There is only my mother and me, and mother is ill."
"Do you think much of that donkey?" he asked quickly.
"I should say so!"
"Well, the first thing he'll be stolen. He'll be gone tomorrow. Then the rest'll come after, and it's Fatty as tells yer so."
"Should say so! You've never been to Paris before?"
"That's easy to see. Some fools told you where to put your cart up, but you can't put it there. Why don't you go to Grain-of-Salt?"
"I don't know Grain-of-Salt."
"Why, he owns the Guillot Fields. You needn't be afraid of him, and he'd shoot anybody who tried to get in his place."
"Will it cost much to go there?"
"It costs a lot in winter, when everybody comes to Paris, but at this time I'm sure he won't make you pay more than forty sous a week. And your donkey can find its food in the field. Does he like thistles?"
"I should say he does like them!"
"Well, then, this is just the place for him, and Grain-of-Salt isn't a bad chap," said the little clown with a satisfied air.
"Is that his name ... Grain-of-Salt?"
"They call him that 'cause he's always thirsty. He's only got one arm."
"Is his place far from here?"
"No, at Charonne; but I bet yer don't even know where Charonne is?"
"I've never been to Paris before."
"Well, then, it's over there." He waved his arms vaguely in a northerly direction.
"Once you have passed through the Gates, you turn straight to the right," he explained, "and you follow the road all along the fortifications for half an hour, then go down a wide avenue, then turn to your left, and then ask where the Guillot Field is. Everybody knows it."
"Thank you. I'll go and tell mama. If you'll stand beside Palikare for a minute, I'll go and tell her at once."
"Sure, I'll mind him for yer. I'll ask him to teach me Greek."
"And please don't let him eat that straw."
Perrine went inside the caravan and told her mother what the little clown had said.
"If that is so," said the sick woman, "we must not hesitate; we must go to Charonne. But can you find the way?"
"Yes, it's easy enough. Oh, mother," she added, as she was going out, "there are such a lot of wagons outside; they have printed on them 'Maraucourt Factories,' and beneath that the name, 'Vulfran Paindavoine.' There are all kinds of barrels and things in the carts. Such a number!"
"There is nothing remarkable in that, my child," said the woman.
"Yes, but it's strange to see so many wagons with the same name on them," replied the girl as she left the caravan.
Perrine found the donkey with his nose buried in the straw, which he was eating calmly.
"Why, you're letting him eat it!" she cried to the boy.
"Well, why not?" he retorted.
"And if the man is angry?"
"He'd better not be with me," said the small boy, putting himself in a position to fight and throwing his head back.
But his prowess was not to be brought into action, for at this moment the custom officer began to search the cart of straw, and then gave permission for it to pass on through the Gates of Paris.
"Now it's your turn," said the boy, "and I'll have to leave you. Goodbye, Mademoiselle. If you ever want news of me ask for Double Fat. Everybody knows me."
The employes who guard the entrances of Paris are accustomed to strange sights, yet the man who went into Perrine's caravan looked surprised when he found a young woman lying on a mattress, and even more surprised when his hasty glance revealed to him the extreme poverty of her surroundings.
"Have you anything to declare?" he asked, continuing his investigations.
"No wine, no provisions?"
This was only too true; apart from the mattress, the two cane chairs, a little table, a tiny stove, a camera and a few photographic supplies, there was nothing in this wagon; no trunks, no baskets, no clothes....
"All right; you can pass," said the man.
Once through the Gates, Perrine, holding Palikare by the bridle, followed the stretch of grass along the embankment. In the brown, dirty grass she saw rough looking men lying on their backs or on their stomachs. She saw now the class of people who frequent this spot. From the very air of these men, with their bestial, criminal faces, she understood why it would be unsafe for them to be there at night. She could well believe that their knives would be in ready use.
Looking towards the city, she saw nothing but dirty streets and filthy houses. So this was Paris, the beautiful Paris of which her father had so often spoken. With one word she made her donkey go faster, then turning to the left she inquired for the Guillot Field.
If everyone knew where it was situated, no two were of the same opinion as to which road she should take to get there, and several times, in trying to follow the various directions which were given to her, she lost her way.
At last she found the place for which she was looking. This must be it! Inside the field there was an old omnibus without wheels, and a railway car, also without wheels, was on the ground. In addition, she saw a dozen little round pups rolling about. Yes, this was the place!
Leaving Palikare in the street, she went into the field. The pups at once scrambled at her feet, barked, and snapped at her shoes.
"Who's there?" called a voice.
She looked around and saw a long, low building, which might have been a house, but which might serve for anything else. The walls were made of bits of stone, wood and plaster. Even tin boxes were used in its construction. The roof was made of tarred canvas and cardboard, and most of the window panes were of paper, although in one or two instances there was some glass. The man who designed it was another Robinson Crusoe, and his workman a man Friday.
A one-armed man with a shaggy beard was sorting out rags and throwing them into the baskets around him.
"Don't step on my dogs," he cried; "come nearer."
She did as she was told.
"Are you the owner of the Guillot Field?" she asked.
"That's me!" replied the man.
In a few words she told him what she wanted. So as not to waste his time while listening, he poured some red wine out of a bottle that stood on the ground and drank it down at a gulp.
"It can be arranged if you pay in advance," he said, sizing her up.
"How much?" she asked.
"Forty sous a week for the wagon and twenty for the donkey," he replied.
"That's a lot of money," she said, hesitatingly.
"That's my price."
"Your summer price?"
"Yes, my summer price."
"Can my donkey eat the thistles?"
"Yes, and the grass also if his teeth are strong enough."
"We can't pay for the whole week because we are only going to stay one day. We are going through Paris on our way to Amiens, and we want to rest."
"Well, that's all right; six sous a day for the cart and three for the donkey."
One by one she pulled out nine sous from the pocket in her skirt.
"That's for the first day," she said, handing them to the man.
"You can tell your people they can all come in," he said, "How many are there? If it's a whole company it's two sous extra for each person."
"I have only my mother."
"All right; but why didn't your mother come and settle this?"
"She is in the wagon, ill."
"Ill! Well, this isn't a hospital."
Perrine was afraid that he would not let her sick mother come in.
"I mean she's a little bit tired. We've come a long way."
"I never ask people where they come from," replied the man gruffly. He pointed to a corner of the field, and added: "You can put your wagon over there and tie up the donkey. And if it squashes one of my pups you'll pay me five francs, one hundred sous ... understand?"
As she was going he called out:
"Will you take a glass of wine?"
"No, thanks," she replied; "I never take wine."
"Good," he said; "I'll drink it for you."
He drained another glass, then returned to his collection of rags.
As soon as she had installed Palikare in the place that the man had pointed out to her, which was accomplished not without some jolts, despite the care which she took, Perrine climbed up into the wagon.
"We've arrived at last, poor mama," she said, bending over the woman.
"No more shaking, no more rolling about," said the woman weakly.
"There, there; I'll make you some dinner," said Perrine cheerfully. "What would you like?"
"First, dear, unharness Palikare; he is very tired also; and give him something to eat and drink."
Perrine did as her mother told her, then returned to the wagon and took out the small stove, some pieces of coal and an old saucepan and some sticks. Outside, she went down on her knees and made a fire; at last, after blowing with all her might, she had the satisfaction of seeing that it had taken.
"You'd like some rice, wouldn't you?" she asked, leaning over her mother.
"I am not hungry."
"Is there anything else you would fancy? I'll go and fetch anything you want. What would you like, mama, dearie?"
"I think I prefer rice," said her mother.
Little Perrine threw a handful of rice into the saucepan that she had put on the fire and waited for the water to boil; then she stirred the rice with two white sticks that she had stripped of their bark. She only left her cooking once, to run over to Palikare to say a few loving words to him. The donkey was eating the thistles with a satisfaction, the intensity of which was shown by the way his long ears stood up.
When the rice was cooked to perfection, Perrine filled a bowl and placed it at her mother's bedside, also two glasses, two plates and two forks. Sitting down on the floor, with her legs tucked under her and her skirts spread out, she said, like a little girl who is playing with her doll: "Now we'll have a little din-din, mammy, dear, and I'll wait on you."
In spite of her gay tone, there was an anxious look in the child's eyes as she looked at her mother lying on the mattress, covered with an old shawl that had once been beautiful and costly, but was now only a faded rag.
The sick woman tried to swallow a mouthful of rice, then she looked at her daughter with a wan smile.
"It doesn't go down very well," she murmured.
"You must force yourself," said Perrine; "the second will go down better, and the third better still."
"I cannot; no, I cannot, dear!"
The mother sank back on her mattress, gasping. But weak though she was, she thought of her little girl and smiled.
"The rice is delicious, dear," she said; "you eat it. As you do the work you must feed well. You must be very strong to be able to nurse me, so eat, darling, eat."
Keeping back her tears, Perrine made an effort to eat her dinner. Her mother continued to talk to her. Little by little she stopped crying and all the rice disappeared.
"Why don't you try to eat, mother?" she asked. "I forced myself."
"But I'm ill, dear."
"I think I ought to go and fetch a doctor. We are in Paris now and there are good doctors here."
"Good doctors will not put themselves out unless they are paid."
"With what, my child?"
"With our money. You have seven francs in your pocket and a florin which we could change here. I've got 17 sous. Feel in your pocket."
The black dress, as worn as Perrine's skirt but not so dusty, for it had been brushed, was lying on the bed, and served for a cover. They found the seven francs and an Austrian coin.
"How much does that make in all?" asked Perrine; "I don't understand French money."
"I know very little more than you," replied her mother.
Counting the florin at two francs, they found they had nine francs and eighty-five centimes.
"You see we have more than what is needed for a doctor," insisted Perrine.
"He won't cure me with words; we shall have to buy medicine."
"I have an idea. You can imagine that all the time I was walking beside Palikare I did not waste my time just talking to him, although he likes that. I was also thinking of both of us, but mostly of you, mama, because you are sick. And I was thinking of our arrival at Maraucourt. Everybody has laughed at our wagon as we came along, and I am afraid if we go to Maraucourt with it we shall not get much of a welcome. If our relations are very proud, they'll be humiliated.
"So I thought," she added, wisely, "that as we don't need the wagon any more, we could sell it. Now that you are ill, no one will let me take their pictures, and even if they would we have not the money to buy the things for developing that we need. We must sell it."
"And how much can we get for it?"
"We can get something; then there is the camera and the mattress."
"Everything," said the sick woman.
"But you don't mind, do you, mother, dear?..."
"We have lived in this wagon for more than a year," said her mother; "your father died here, and although it's a poor thing, it makes me sad to part with it.... It is all that remains of him ... there is not one of these old things here that does not remind us of him...."
She stopped, gasping; the tears were rolling down her cheeks.
"Oh, forgive me, mother, for speaking about it," cried Perrine.
"My darling, you are right. You are only a child, but you have thought of the things that I should have. I shall not be better tomorrow nor the next day, and we must sell these things, and we must decide to sell...."
The mother hesitated. There was a painful silence.
"Palikare," said Perrine at last.
"You have thought that also?" asked the mother.
"Yes," said Perrine, "and I have been so unhappy about it, and sometimes I did not dare look at him for fear he would guess that we were going to part with him instead of taking him to Maraucourt with us. He would have been so happy there after such a long journey."
"If we were only sure of a welcome, but they may turn us away. If they do, all we can do then is to lie down by the roadside and die, but no matter what it costs, we must get to Maraucourt, and we must present ourselves as well as we can so that they will not shut their doors upon us...."
"Would that be possible, mama?... The memory of papa ... he was so good. Could they be angry with him now he is dead?"
"I am speaking as your father would have spoken, dear ... so we will sell Palikare. With the money that we get for him we will have a doctor, so that I can get stronger; then, when I am well enough, we will buy a nice dress for you and one for me, and then we'll start. We will take the train as far as we can and walk the rest of the way."
"That boy who spoke to me at the Gates told me that Palikare was a fine donkey, and he knows, for he is in a circus. It was because he thought Palikare was so beautiful that he spoke to me."
"I don't know how much an Eastern donkey would bring in Paris, but we'll see as soon as we can," said the sick woman.
Leaving her mother to rest, Perrine got together their soiled clothing and decided to do some washing. Adding her own waist to a bundle consisting of three handkerchiefs, two pairs of stockings and two combinations, she put them all into a basin, and with her washboard and a piece of soap she went outside. She had ready some boiling water which she had put on the fire after cooking the rice; this she poured over the things. Kneeling on the grass, she soaped and rubbed until all were clean; then she rinsed them and hung them on a line to dry.
While she worked, Palikare, who was tied up at a short distance from her, had glanced her way several times. When he saw that she had finished her task he stretched his neck towards her and sent forth five or six brays ... an imperative call.
"Did you think I had forgotten you?" she called out. She went to him, changed his place, gave him some water to drink from her saucepan, which she had carefully rinsed, for if he was satisfied with all the food that they gave him, he was very particular about what he drank. He would only drink pure water from a clean vessel, or red wine ... this he liked better than anything.
She stroked him and talked to him lovingly, like a kind nurse would to a little child, and the donkey, who had thrown himself down on the grass the moment he was free, placed his head against her shoulder. He loved his young mistress, and every now and again he looked up at her and shook his long ears in sign of utter content.
All was quiet in the field and the streets close by were now deserted. From the distance came the dim roar of the great city, deep, powerful, mysterious; the breath and life of Paris, active and incessant, seemed like the roar of a mighty ocean going on and on, in spite of the night that falls.
Then, in the softness of the coming night, little Perrine seemed to feel more impressed with the talk that she had had with her mother, and leaning her head against her donkey's, she let the tears, which she had kept back so long, flow silently, and Palikare, in mute sympathy, bent his head and licked her hands.
GRAIN-OF-SALT IS KIND
Many times that night Perrine, lying beside her mother, had jumped up and run to the well for water so as to have it fresh. In spite of her desire to fetch the doctor as early as possible the next morning, she had to wait until Grain-of-Salt had risen, for she did not know what doctor to call in. She asked him.
Certainly he knew of a good doctor! and a famous one, too! who made his rounds in a carriage, not on foot, like doctors of no account. Dr. Cendrier, rue Rublet, near the Church; he was the man! To find the street she had only to follow the railway tracks as far as the station.
When he spoke of such a great doctor who made his rounds in a carriage, Perrine was afraid that she would not have enough money to pay him, and timidly she questioned Grain-of-Salt, not daring to ask outright what she wanted to know. Finally he understood.
"What you'd have to pay?" he asked. "It's a lot, but it won't be more than forty sous, and so as to make sure, you'll have to pay him in advance."
Following the directions that Grain-of-Salt gave her, she easily found the house, but the doctor had not yet risen, so she had to wait. She sat down on a bench in the street, outside a stable door, behind which a coachman was harnessing a horse to a carriage. She thought if she waited there she would be sure to catch the doctor as he left the house, and if she gave him her forty sous he would consent to come. She was quite sure that he would not if she had simply asked him to visit a patient who was staying in the Guillot Field.
She waited a long time; her suspense increased at the thought that her mother would be wondering what kept her away so long.
At last an old-fashioned carriage and a clumsy horse came out of the stables and stood before the doctor's house. Almost immediately the doctor appeared, big, fat, with a grey beard.
Before he could step into his carriage Perrine was beside him. She put her question tremblingly.
"The Guillot Field?" he said. "Has there been a fight?"
"No, sir; it's my mother who is ill."
"Who is your mother?"
"We are photographers."
He put his foot on the step. She offered him her forty sous quickly.
"We can pay you," she hastened to say.
"Then it's sixty sous," said he.
She added twenty sous more. He took the money and slipped it into his waistcoat pocket.
"I'll be with your mother in about fifteen minutes," he said.
She ran all the way back, happy, to take the good news.
"He'll cure you, mama; he's a real, real doctor!" she said, breathlessly.
She quickly busied herself with her mother, washing her hands and face and arranging her hair, which was beautiful, black and silky; then she tidied up the "room," which only had the result of making it look emptier and poorer still.
She had not long to wait. Hearing the carriage in the road, she ran out to meet the doctor. As he was walking towards the house she pointed to the wagon.
"We live there in our wagon," she said.
He did not seem surprised; he was accustomed to the extreme poverty of his patients; but Perrine, who was looking at him, noticed that he frowned when he saw the sick woman lying on the mattress in the miserable cart.
"Put out your tongue and give me your hand," he said.
Those who pay forty or a hundred francs for a visit from a doctor have no idea of the brevity with which the poor people's cases are diagnosed. In less than a minute his examination was made.
"A case for the hospital," he said.
Simultaneously, little Perrine and her mother uttered a cry.
"Now, child, leave me alone with your mother," he said in a tone of command.
For a moment Perrine hesitated, but at a sign from her mother she left the wagon and stood just outside.
"I am going to die," said the woman in a low voice.
"Who says that? What you need is nursing, and you can't get that here."
"Could I have my daughter at the hospital?"
"She can see you Thursdays and Sundays."
"What will become of her without me," murmured the mother, "alone in Paris? If I have to die I want to go holding her hand in mine."
"Well, anyway, you can't be left in this cart. The cold nights would be fatal for you. You must take a room. Can you?"
"If it is not for long, perhaps."
"Grain-of-Salt can rent you one, and won't charge much; but the room is not all. You must have medicine and good food and care, all of which you would get at the hospital."
"Doctor, that is impossible," said the sick woman. "I cannot leave my little girl. What would become of her?"
"Well, it's as you like; it's your own affair. I have told you what I think."
"You can come in, little girl, now," he called out. Then taking a leaf from his note pad, he wrote out a prescription.
"Take that to the druggist, near the Church," he said, handing it to Perrine. "No other, mind you. The packet marked No. 1 give to your mother. Then give her the potion every hour. Give her the Quinquina wine when she eats, for she must eat anything she wants, especially eggs. I'll drop in again this evening."
She ran out after him.
"Is my mama very ill?" she asked.
"Well ... try and get her to go to the hospital."
"Can't you cure her?"
"I hope so, but I can't give her what she'll get at the hospital. It is foolish for her not to go. She won't go because she has to leave you. Nothing will happen to you, for you look like a girl who can take care of yourself."
Striding on, he reached his carriage. Perrine wanted him to say more, but he jumped in quickly and was driven off. She returned to the wagon.
"Go quickly to the druggist; then get some eggs. Take all the money; I must get well," said the mother.
"The doctor said he could cure you," said Perrine. "I'll go quickly for the things."
But all the money she took was not enough. When the druggist had read the prescription he looked at Perrine.
"Have you the money to pay for this?" he asked.
She opened her hand.
"This will come to seven francs, fifty," said the man who had already made his calculation.
She counted what she had in her hand and found that she had six francs eighty-five centimes, in counting the Austrian florin as two francs. She needed thirteen sous more.
"I have only six francs eighty-five centimes. Would you take this florin? I have counted that," she said.
"Oh, no; I should say not!" replied the man.
What was to be done? She stood in the middle of the store with her hand open. She was in despair.
"If you'll take the florin there will be only thirteen sous lacking," she said at last, "and I'll bring them this afternoon."
But the druggist would not agree to this arrangement. He would neither give her credit for thirteen sous nor accept the florin.
"As there is no hurry for the wine," he said, "you can come and fetch it this afternoon. I'll prepare the other things at once and they'll only cost you three francs fifty."
With the money that remained she bought some eggs, a little Vienna loaf which she thought might tempt her mother's appetite, and then she returned to the Field, running as fast as she could all the way.
"The eggs are fresh," she said. "I held them up to the light. And look at the bread! Isn't it a beautiful loaf, mama? You'll eat it, won't you?"
Both were full of hope. Perrine had absolute faith in the doctor, and was certain that he would perform the miracle. Why should he deceive them? When one asks the doctor to tell the truth, doesn't he do so?
Hope had given the sick woman an appetite. She had eaten nothing for two days; now she ate a half of the roll.
"You see," said Perrine, gleefully.
"Everything will be all right soon," answered her mother with a smile.
Perrine went to the house to inquire of Grain-of-Salt what steps she should take to sell the wagon and dear Palikare.
As for the wagon, nothing was easier. Grain-of-Salt would buy it himself; he bought everything, furniture, clothes, tools, musical instruments ... but a donkey! That was another thing. He did not buy animals, except pups, and his advice was that they should wait for a day and sell it at the Horse Market. That would be on Wednesday.
Wednesday seemed a long way off, for in her excitement, and filled with hope, Perrine had thought that by Wednesday her mother would be strong enough to start for Maraucourt. But to have to wait like this! There was one thing, though: With what she got for the wagon she could buy the two dresses and the railway tickets, and if Grain-of-Salt paid them enough, then they need not sell Palikare. He could stay at the Guillot Field and she could send for him after they arrived at Maraucourt. Dear Palikare! How contented he would be to have a beautiful stable to live in and go out every day in the green fields.
But alas! Grain-of-Salt would not give one sou over fifteen francs for the wagon.
"Only fifteen francs!" she murmured.
"Yes, and I am only doing that to oblige you. What do you think I can do with it?" he said. He struck the wheels and the shafts with an iron bar; then shrugged his shoulders in disgust.
After a great deal of bargaining all she could get was two francs fifty on the price he had offered, and the promise that he would not take it until after they had gone, so that they could stay in it all day, which she thought would be much better for her mother than closed up in the house.
After she had looked at the room that Grain-of-Salt was willing to rent, she realized how much the wagon meant to them, for in spite of the pride in which he spoke of his "Apartments," and the contempt in which he spoke of the wagon, Perrine was heartbroken at the thought that she must bring her dear mother to this dirty smelling house.
As she hesitated, wondering if her mother would not be poisoned from the odor which came from the heaps of things outside, Grain-of-Salt said impatiently:
"Hurry up! The rag pickers will be here in a moment and I'll have to get busy."
"Does the doctor know what these rooms are like?" she asked.
"Sure! He came to this one lots of times to see the Baroness."
That decided her. If the doctor had seen the rooms he knew what he was doing in advising them to take one, and then if a Baroness lived in one, her mother could very well live in the other.
"You'll have to pay one week in advance," said the landlord, "and three sous for the donkey and six for the wagon."
"But you've bought the wagon," she said in surprise.
"Yes, but as you're using it, it's only fair that you should pay."
She had no reply to make to this. It was not the first time that she had been cheated. It had happened so often on their long journey.
"Very well," said the poor little girl.
She employed the greater part of the day in cleaning their room, washing the floor, wiping down the walls, the ceiling, the windows. Such a scrubbing had never been seen in that house since the place had been built!
During the numerous trips that she made from the house to the pump she saw that not only did grass and thistles grow in the Field, but there were flowers. Evidently some neighbors had thrown some plants over the fence and the seeds had sprung up here and there. Scattered about she saw a few roots of wall-flowers, pinks and even some violets!
What a lovely idea! She would pick some and put them in their room. They would drive away the bad odor, and at the same time make the place look gay.
It seemed that the flowers belonged to no one, for Palikare was allowed to eat them if he wished, yet she was afraid to pick the tiniest one without first asking Grain-of-Salt.
"Do you want to sell them?" he asked.
"No, just to put a few in our room," she replied.
"Oh, if that's it you may take as many as you like, but if you are going to sell them, I might do that myself. As it's for your room, help yourself, little one. You like the smell of flowers. I like the smell of wine. That's the only thing I can smell."
She picked the flowers, and searching amongst the heap of broken glass she found an old vase and some tumblers.
The miserable room was soon filled with the sweet perfume of wall-flowers, pinks and violets, which kept out the bad odors of the rest of the house, and at the same time the fresh, bright colors lent a beauty to the dark walls.
While working, she had made the acquaintance of her neighbors. On one side of their room lived an old woman whose gray head was adorned with a bonnet decorated with the tri-color ribbon of the French flag. On the other side lived a big man, almost bent double. He wore a leather apron, so long and so large that it seemed to be his only garment. The woman with the tri-color ribbons was a street singer, so the big man told her, and no less a person than the Baroness of whom Grain-of-Salt had spoken. Every day she left the Guillot Field with a great red umbrella and a big stick which she stuck in the ground at the crossroads or at the end of a bridge. She would shelter herself from the sun or the rain under her red umbrella and sing, and then sell to the passersby copies of the songs she sang.
As to the big man with the apron, he was a cobbler, so she learned from the Baroness, and he worked from morning to night. He was always silent, like a fish, and for this reason everybody called him Father Carp. But although he did little talking he made enough noise with his hammer.
At sunset Perrine's room was ready. Her mother, as she was helped in, looked at the flowers with surprise and pleasure.
"How good you are to your mama, darling," she murmured as she clung to Perrine's arm.
"How good I am to myself," Perrine cried gayly, "because if I do anything that pleases you, I am so happy."
At night they had to put the flowers outside. Then the odors of the old house rose up terribly strong, but the sick woman did not dare complain. What would be the use, for she could not leave the Guillot Field to go elsewhere?
Her sleep was restless, and when the doctor came the next morning he found her worse, which made him change the treatment, and Perrine was obliged to go again to the druggist. This time he asked five francs to fill out the prescription. She did not flinch, but paid bravely, although she could scarcely breathe when she got outside the store. If the expenses continued to increase at this rate poor Palikare would have to be sold on Wednesday. He would have to go now anyway. And if the doctor prescribed something else the next day, costing five francs or more, where would she find the money?
When, with her mother and father, she had tramped over the mountains, they had often been hungry, and more than once since they had left Greece on their way to France they had been without food. But hunger in the mountains and in the country was another thing—there was always the chance that they would find some wild fruit or vegetables. But in Paris there was no hope for those who had no money in their pockets.
What would become of them? And the terrible thing was that she must take the responsibility. Her mother was too ill now to think or plan, and Perrine, although only a child, realized that she must now be the mother.
On Tuesday morning her fears were realized. After a brief examination, the doctor took from his pocket that terrible notebook that Perrine dreaded to see and began to write. She had the courage to stop him.
"Doctor, if the medicines which you are ordering are not all of the same importance," she said, "will you please write out those which are needed the most?"
"What do you mean?" he asked angrily.
She trembled but continued bravely:
"I mean that we have not much money today, and we shall not get any perhaps until tomorrow ... so...."
He looked at her, then glanced round the room, as though for the first time remarking their poverty; then he put his notebook back in his pocket.
"We won't change the treatment until tomorrow, then," he said. "There is no hurry for this. Continue the same today."
"No hurry!" Perrine repeated the words to herself. There was no hurry then ... her mother was not so ill as she had feared; they had just to wait and hope....
Wednesday was the day for which she was waiting, yet at the same time how she dreaded it. Dear, dear Palikare.... Whenever her mother did not need her she would run out into the field and kiss his nose and talk to him, and as he had no work to do, and all the thistles to eat that he wanted and his little mistress' love, he was the happiest donkey in the world.
"Ah, if you only knew," murmured Perrine, as she caressed him.
But he did not know. All he knew was that she loved him and that the thistles were good. So, as she kissed and kissed, he brayed in contentment and shook his long ears as he looked at her from the corner of his eyes.
Besides, he had made friends with Grain-of-Salt and had received a proof of his friendship in a way that flattered his greed. On Monday, having broken loose, he had trotted up to Grain-of-Salt, who was occupied in sorting out the rags and bones that had just arrived, and he stood beside him. The man was about to pour out a drink from the bottle that was always beside him when he saw Palikare, his eyes fixed on him, his neck stretched out.
"What are you doing here?" he asked. As the words were not said in anger, the donkey knew, and he did not move.
"Want a drink ... a glass of wine?" he asked mockingly. The glass that he was about to put to his lips he offered in a joke to the donkey. Palikare, taking the offer seriously, came a step nearer and pushing out his lips to make them as thin and as long as possible, drank a good half of the glass which had been filled to the brim.
"Oh la la! la la!" cried Grain-of-Salt, bursting with laughter. "Baroness! Carp! Come here!"
At his calls, the Baroness and Carp, also a rag picker who came into the field at that moment and a man with a push-cart who sold red and yellow and blue sugar sticks, ran up.
"What's the matter?" demanded the Baroness.
He filled the glass again and held it out to the donkey, who, as before, absorbed half of the contents amidst the laughter and shouts of those who looked on.
"I heard that donkeys liked wine, but I never believed it," said the candy man.
"You ought to buy him; he'd be a good companion for you," said the Baroness.
"A fine pair," said another.
But Grain-of-Salt did not buy him, although he took a great liking to him, and told Perrine that he would go with her on Wednesday to the Horse Market. This was a great relief for Perrine, for she had wondered how she would ever be able to find the place; neither did she know how to discuss prices, and she was very much afraid that she would be robbed. She had heard so many stories about Paris thieves, and what could she have done to protect herself?...
Wednesday morning came. At an early hour she busied herself with brushing Palikare and making his beautiful coat shine so that he would look his best. How she kissed him! How she stroked him while her tears fell!
When Palikare saw that instead of being hitched to the wagon, a rope was put round his neck, his surprise was great; and still more surprised was he when Grain-of-Salt, who did not want to walk all the way from Charonne to the Horse Market, climbed up on a chair and from the chair onto his back. But as Perrine held him and spoke to him, he offered no resistance. Besides, was not Grain-of-Salt his friend?
They started thus. Palikare, still surprised, walked gravely along, led by Perrine. On through the streets they went. At first they met but few vehicles, and soon they arrived at a bridge which jutted into a large garden.
"That's the Zoo," said Grain-of-Salt, "and I'm sure that they haven't got a donkey there like yours."
"Then perhaps we can sell him to the Zoo," exclaimed Perrine, thinking that in a zoological garden all the animals have to do is to walk about and be looked at. That would be very nice for dear Palikare!
"An affair with the Government," said Grain-of-Salt; "better not, 'cause the Government...."
From his expression it was evident that Grain-of-Salt had no faith in the Government.
From now on the traffic was intense. Perrine needed all her wits and eyes about her. After what seemed a long time they arrived at the Market and Grain-of-Salt jumped off the donkey. But while he was getting down Palikare had time to gaze about him, and when Perrine tried to make him go through the iron gate at the entrance he refused to budge.
He seemed to know by instinct that this was a market where horses and donkeys were sold. He was afraid. Perrine coaxed him, commanded him, begged him, but he still refused to move. Grain-of-Salt thought that if he pushed him from behind he would go forward, but Palikare, who would not permit such familiarity, backed and reared, dragging Perrine with him.
There was already a small circle of onlookers around them. In the first row, as usual, there were messenger boys and errand boys, each giving his word of advice as to what means to use to force the donkey through the gate.
"That there donkey is going to give some trouble to the fool who buys him," cried one.
These were dangerous words that might affect the sale, so Grain-of-Salt thought he ought to say something.
"He's the cleverest donkey that ever was!" he cried. "He knows he's going to be sold, and he's doin' this 'cause he loves us and don't want ter leave us!"
"Are you so sure of that, Grain-of-Salt?" called out a voice in the crowd.
"Zooks! who knows my name here?" cried the one addressed.
"Don't you recognize La Rouquerie?"
"My faith, that's so," he cried, as the speaker came forward. They shook hands.
"That donkey yours?"
"No; it belongs to this little gal."
"Do you know anything about it?"
"We've had more than one glass together, and if you want a good donkey I'll speak for him."
"I need one and yet I don't need one," said La Rouquerie.
"Well, come and take a drink. 'Tain't worthwhile to pay for a place in the Market...."
"Especially if he won't budge!"
"I told you he was a smart one; he's that intelligent."
"If I buy him it's not for his tricks nor 'cause he can take a drink with one, but he must work."
"He can work, sure! He's come all the way from Greece without stopping."
Grain-of-Salt made a sign to Perrine to follow him, and Palikare, now that he knew that he was not going into the market, trotted beside her docilely. She did not even have to pull his rope.
Who was this prospective buyer? A man? A woman? From the general appearance and the hairless face it might be a woman of about fifty, but from the clothes, which consisted of a workingman's blouse and trousers and a tall leather hat like a coachman wears, and from the short, black pipe which the individual was smoking, it surely was a man. But whatever it was, Perrine decided that the person looked kind. The expression was not hard or wicked.
Grain-of-Salt and the stranger turned down a narrow street and stopped at a wine shop. They sat down at one of the tables outside on the pavement and ordered a bottle of wine and two glasses. Perrine remained by the curb, still holding her donkey.
"You'll see if he isn't cunning," said Grain-of-Salt, holding out his full glass.
Palikare stretched out his neck, thinned his lips and quickly drank the half glass of wine.
But this feat did not give La Rouquerie any particular satisfaction.
"I don't want him to drink my wine, but to drag my cart with the rabbit skins," she said.
"Didn't I just tell you that he came from Greece, draggin' a wagon the whole way?"
"Ah, that's another thing!"
The strange looking woman carefully examined the animal; then she gave the greatest attention to every detail; then asked Perrine how much she wanted for him. The price which Perrine had arranged with her landlord beforehand was one hundred francs. This was the sum that she asked.
La Rouquerie gave a cry of amazement. One hundred francs! Sell a donkey without any guarantee for that sum! Were they crazy? Then she began to find all kind of faults with the unfortunate Palikare.
"Oh, very well," said Grain-of-Salt, after a lengthy discussion; "we'll take him to the Market."
Perrine breathed. The thought of only getting twenty francs had stunned her. In their terrible distress what would twenty francs be? A hundred francs even was not sufficient for their pressing needs.
"Let's see if he'll go in any more now than he did then," cried La Rouquerie.
Palikare followed Perrine up to the Market gates obediently, but once there he stopped short. She insisted, and talked, and pulled at the rope, but it was no use. Finally he sat down in the middle of the street.
"Palikare, do come! Do come, dear Palikare," Perrine said, imploringly.
But he sat there as though he did not understand a word of what she was saying. A crowd gathered round and began to jeer.
"Set fire to his tail," cried one.
Grain-of-Salt was furious, Perrine in despair.
"You see he won't go in," cried La Rouquerie. "I'll give thirty francs, that's ten more'n I said, 'cause his cunning shows that this donkey is a good boy, but hurry up and take the money or I'll buy another."
Grain-of-Salt consulted Perrine with a glance; he made her a sign that she ought to accept the offer. But she seemed stunned at such a fraud. She was standing there undecided when a policeman told her roughly that she was blocking up the street and that she must move on.
"Go forward, or go back, but don't stand there," he ordered.
She could not go forward, for Palikare had no intention of doing so. As soon as he understood that she had given up all hope of getting him into the Market, he got up and followed her docilely, agitating his long ears with satisfaction.
"Now," said La Rouquerie, after she had put thirty francs into poor Perrine's hand, "you must take him to my place, for I'm beginning to know him and he's quite capable of refusing to come with me. I don't live far from here."
But Grain-of-Salt would not consent to do this; he declared that the distance was too far for him.
"You go with the lady alone," he said to Perrine, "and don't be too cut up about your donkey. He'll be all right with her. She's a good woman."
"But how shall I find my way back to Charonne?" asked Perrine, bewildered. She dreaded to be lost in the great city.
"You follow the fortifications ... nothing easier."
As it happened, the street where La Rouquerie lived was not far from the Horse Market, and it did not take them long to get there. There were heaps of garbage before her place, just like in Guillot Field.
The moment of parting had come. As she tied Palikare up in a little stable, her tears fell on his head.
"Don't take on so," said the woman; "I'll take care of him, I promise you."
"We loved him so much," said little Perrine. Then she went on her way.
"POOR LITTLE GIRL"
What was she to do with thirty francs when she had calculated that they must at least have one hundred? She turned this question over in her mind sadly as she walked along by the fortifications. She found her way back easily. She put the money into her mother's hand, for she did not know how to spend it. It was her mother who decided what to do.
"We must go at once to Maraucourt," she said.
"But are you strong enough?" Perrine asked doubtfully.
"I must be. We have waited too long in the hope that I should get better. And while we wait our money is going. What poor Palikare has brought us will go also. I did not want to go in this miserable state...."
"When must we go? Today?" asked Perrine.
"No; it's too late today. We must go tomorrow morning. You go and find out the hours of the train and the price of the tickets. It is the Gare du Nord station, and the place where we get out is Picquigny."
Perrine anxiously sought Grain-of-Salt. He told her it was better for her to consult a time table than to go to the station, which was a long way off. From the time table they learned that there were two trains in the morning, one at six o'clock and one at ten, and that the fare to Picquigny, third class, was nine francs twenty-five centimes.
"We'll take the ten o'clock train," said her mother, "and we will take a cab, for I certainly cannot walk to the station."
And yet when nine o'clock the next day came she could not even get to the cab that Perrine had waiting for her. She attempted the few steps from her room to the cab, but would have fallen to the ground had not Perrine held her.
"I must go back," she said weakly. "Don't be anxious ... it will pass."
But it did not pass, and the Baroness, who was watching them depart, had to bring a chair. The moment she dropped into the seat she fainted.
"She must go back and lie down," said the Baroness, rubbing her cold hands. "It is nothing, girl; don't look so scared ... just go and find Carp. The two of us can carry her to her room. You can't go ... not just now."
The Baroness soon had the sick woman in her bed, where she regained consciousness.
"Now you must just stay there in your bed," said the Baroness, kindly. "You can go just as well tomorrow. I'll get Carp to give you a nice cup of bouillon. He loves soup as much as the landlord loves wine; winter and summer he gets up at five o'clock and makes his soup; good stuff it is, too. Few can make better."
Without waiting for a reply, she went to Carp, who was again at his work.
"Will you give me a cup of your bouillon for our patient?" she asked.
He replied with a smile only, but he quickly took the lid from a saucepan and filled a cup with the savory soup.
The Baroness returned with it, carrying it carefully, so as not to spill a drop.
"Take that, my dear lady," she said, kneeling down beside the bed. "Don't move, but just open your lips."
A spoonful was put to the sick woman's lips, but she could not swallow it. Again she fainted, and this time she remained unconscious for a longer time. The Baroness saw that the soup was not needed, and so as not to waste it, she made Perrine take it.
A day passed. The doctor came, but there was nothing he could do.
Perrine was in despair. She wondered how long the thirty francs that La Rouquerie had given her would last. Although their expenses were not great, there was first one thing, then another, that was needed. When the last sous were spent, where would they go? What would become of them if they could get no more money?
She was seated beside her mother's bedside, her beautiful little face white and drawn with anxiety. Suddenly she felt her mother's hand, which she held in hers, clasp her fingers more tightly.
"You want something?" she asked quickly, bending her head.
"I want to speak to you ... the hour has come for my last words to you, darling," said her mother.
"Oh, mama! mama!" cried Perrine.
"Don't interrupt, darling, and let us both try to control ourselves. I did not want to frighten you, and that is the reason why, until now, I have said nothing that would add to your grief. But what I have to say must be said, although it hurts us both. We are going to part...."
In spite of her efforts, Perrine could not keep back her sobs.
"Yes, it is terrible, dear child, and yet I am wondering if, after all, it is not for the best ... that you will be an orphan. It may be better for you to go alone than to be taken to them by a mother whom they have scorned. Well, God's will is that you should be left alone ... in a few hours ... tomorrow, perhaps...."
For a moment she stopped, overcome with emotion.
"When I ... am gone ... there will be things for you to do. In my pocket you will find a large envelope which contains my marriage certificate. The certificate bears my name and your father's. You will be asked to show it, but make them give it back to you. You might need it later on to prove your parentage. Take great care of it, dear. However, you might lose it, so I want you to learn it by heart, so that you will never forget it. Then, when a day comes and you need it, you must get another copy. You understand? Remember all that I tell you."
"Yes, mama; yes."
"You will be very unhappy, but you must not give way to despair. When you have nothing more to do in Paris ... when you are left alone ... then you must go off at once to Maraucourt ... by train if you have enough money ... on foot, if you have not. Better to sleep by the roadside and have nothing to eat than to stay in Paris. You promise to leave Paris at once, Perrine?"
"I promise, mama," sobbed the little girl.
The sick woman made a sign that she wanted to say more, but that she must rest for a moment. Little Perrine waited, her eyes fixed on her mother's face.
"You will go to Maraucourt?" said the dying woman after a few moments had passed. "You have no right to claim anything ... what you get must be for yourself alone ... be good, and make yourself loved. All is there ... for you. I have hope ... you will be loved for yourself ... they cannot help loving you ... and then your troubles will be over, my darling."
She clasped her hands in prayer. Then a look of heavenly rapture came over her face.
"I see," she cried; "I see ... my darling will be loved! She will be happy ... she will be cared for. I can die in peace now with this thought ... Perrine, my Perrine, keep a place in your heart for me always, child...."
These words, which seemed like an exaltation to Heaven, had exhausted her; she sank back on the mattress and sighed. Perrine waited ... waited. Her mother did not speak. She was dead. Then the child left the bedside and went out of the house. In the field she threw herself down on the grass and broke into sobs. It seemed as though her little heart would break.
It was a long time before she could calm herself. Then her breath came in hiccoughs. Vaguely she thought that she ought not to leave her mother alone. Someone should watch over her.
The field was now filled with shadows; the night was falling. She wandered about, not knowing where she went, still sobbing.
She passed the wagon for the tenth time. The candy man, who had watched her come out of the house, went towards her with two sugar sticks in his hand.
"Poor little girl," he said, pityingly.
"Oh!..." she sobbed.
"There, there! Take these," he said, offering her the candy. "Sweetness is good for sorrow."
A HARD ROAD TO TRAVEL
The last prayers had been uttered. Perrine still stood before the grave. The Baroness, who had not left her, gently took her arm.
"Come," she said; "you must come away," she added more firmly as Perrine attempted to resist her.
Holding her tightly by the arm, she drew her away. They walked on for some moments, Perrine not knowing what was passing around her, nor understanding where they were leading her. Her thoughts, her spirit, her heart, were with her mother.
At last they stopped in one of the side paths; then she saw standing round her the Baroness, who had now let go of her arm, Grain-of-Salt and the candy man, but she saw them only vaguely. The Baroness had black ribbons on her bonnet; Grain-of-Salt was dressed like a gentleman and wore a high silk hat; Carp had replaced his leather apron by a black Prince Albert which came down to his feet, and the candy man had cast aside his white blouse for a cloth coat. For, like the real Parisian who practises the cult of the dead, they had dressed themselves up in their best to pay respect to the one they had just buried.
"I want to tell you, little one," commenced Grain-of-Salt, who thought that he should speak first, being the most important person present; "I want to tell you that you can stay as long as you like in Guillot Fields without paying."
"If you'd like to sing with me," said the Baroness, "you can earn enough to live on. It's a nice profession."
"If you'd like to go into the candy business, I'll teach you; that's a real trade and a nice one," said the candy man.
Carp said nothing, but with a smile and a gesture he let her understand that she could always find a bowl of soup at his place ... and good soup, too!
Perrine's eyes filled with fresh tears, soft tears which washed away the bitterness of the burning ones which for two days had flowed from her eyes.
"How good you all are to me," she murmured.
"One does what one can," said Grain-of-Salt.
"One should not leave an honest little girl like you on the streets of Paris," said the Baroness.
"I must not stay in Paris," replied Perrine; "I must go at once to my relations."
"You have relations?" exclaimed Grain-of-Salt, looking at the others with an air which said that he did not think that those relations could be worth much. "Where are your relations?"
"And how can you go to Amiens? Have you got money?"
"Not enough to take the train, but I'm going to walk there."
"Do you know the way?"
"I have a map in my pocket...."
"Yes, but does that tell you which road you have to take from here, here in Paris?"
"No, but if you will tell me...."
They all were eager to give her this information, but it was all so confused and contradictory that Grain-of-Salt cut the talk short.
"If you want to lose yourself in Paris, just listen to what they are saying," he said. "Now, this is the way you must go," and he explained to her which road she should take. "Now, when do you want to go?"
"At once; I promised my mother," said Perrine.
"You must obey her," said the Baroness, solemnly, "but not before I've kissed you; you're a good girl."
The men shook hands with her.
She knew she must leave the cemetery, yet she hesitated and turned once more towards the grave that she had just left, but the Baroness stopped her.
"As you are obliged to go, go at once; it is best," she said.
"Yes, go," said Grain-of-Salt.
When she had climbed into the car on the belt line she took an old map of France from her pocket which she had consulted many times alone since they left Italy. From Paris to Amiens the road was easy; she had only to take the Calais road; this was indicated on her map by a little black line. From Amiens she would go to Boulogne, and as she had learned also to calculate distances, she thought that to Maraucourt it ought to be about one hundred and fifty-eight miles.
But could she do all those miles, regularly ... go on day after day? She knew that to walk four or five miles by chance on one day was a very different matter to taking a long, continuous journey like she was contemplating. There would be bad days ... rainy days ... and how long would her money last? She had only five francs thirty-five centimes left. The train pulled up at the station at which she had to get out. Now she had to turn to the right, and as the sun would not go down for two or three hours she hoped to be far away from Paris by night, and find a place in the open country where she could sleep.
Yet as far as her eyes could see there was nothing but houses and factories, factories with great tall chimneys sending forth clouds of thick, black smoke, and all along the road wagons, tramways and carts. Again she saw a lot of trucks bearing the name that she had noticed while waiting to pass through the Gates: "Maraucourt Factories, Vulfran Paindavoine."
Would Paris ever end? Would she ever get out of this great city? She was not afraid of the lonely fields, nor the silence of the country at night, nor the mysterious shadows, but of Paris, the crowd, the lights. She was now on the outskirts of the city. Before leaving it (although she had no appetite), she thought she would buy a piece of bread so that she would have something to eat before going to sleep. She went into a baker shop.
"I want some bread, please," she said.
"Have you any money?" demanded the woman, who did not seem to put much confidence in Perrine's appearance.
"Yes, and I want one pound, please. Here is five francs. Will you give me the change?"
Before cutting the bread the woman took up the five franc piece and examined it.
"What! that!" she exclaimed, making it ring on the marble slab.
"It's a five franc piece," said Perrine.
"Who told you to try and pass that off on me?" asked the woman, angrily.
"No one, and I am asking you for a pound of bread for my supper."
"Well, then, you won't get any bread, and you'd better get out of here as quickly as you can before I have you arrested."
"Arrested! Why?" she stammered in surprise.
"Because you're a thief!"
"You want to pass counterfeit money on me. You vagabond ... you thief! Be off! No, wait; I'll get a policeman."
Perrine knew that she was not a thief, whether the money was real or false, but vagabond she was. She had no home, no parents. What would she answer the policeman? They would arrest her for being a vagabond.
She put this question to herself very quickly, but although her fear was great, she thought of her money.
"If you don't wish to sell me the bread, at least you can give me back my money," she said, holding out her hand.
"So that you can pass it on someone else, eh? I'll keep your money. If you want it, go and fetch the police," cried the woman, furiously. "Be off, you thief."
The woman's loud cries could be heard in the street, and several people by now had gathered round the door.
"What's the matter?" someone cried.
"Why, this girl here is trying to rob my till," shouted the woman. "There never is a cop when one wants one."
Terrified, Perrine wondered how she could get out, but they let her pass as she made for the door, hissing her and calling her names as she ran. She ran on and on, too afraid to turn round to see if anyone was following her.
After a few minutes, which to her seemed hours, she found herself in the country, and was able to stop and breathe. No one was calling after her; no one following her.
After her fears had calmed down she realized that she had nothing to eat and no money. What should she do? Instinctively she glanced at the fields by the wayside. She saw beets, onions, cabbages, but there was nothing there ready to eat, and besides, even if there had been ripe melons and trees laden with fruit, what good would they have been to her; she could not stretch out her hand to pick the fruit any more than she could stretch it out to beg of the passersby. No, little Perrine was not a thief, nor a beggar, nor a vagabond.
She felt very depressed. It was eventide, and in the quietness of the twilight she realized how utterly alone she was; but she knew that she must not give way; she felt that while there was still light she must walk on, and by the time night fell perhaps she would have found a spot where she could sleep in safety.
She had not gone far before she found what she thought would be the very place. As she came to a field of artichokes she saw a man and woman picking artichoke heads and packing them in baskets, which they piled up in a cart that stood by the roadside. She stopped to look at them at their work. A moment later another cart driven by a girl came up.
"So you're getting yours all in?" called out the girl.
"Should say so, and it's none too soon," replied the man. "It's no fun sleeping here all night to watch for those rogues. I at least shall sleep in my bed tonight."
"And what about Monneau's lot?" grinned the girl.
"Oh, Monneau's a sly dog," answered the man; "he counts on us others watching out for his. He's not going to be here tonight. Serve him right if he finds all his gone!"
All three laughed heartily. They were not over-anxious that Monneau should prosper. Didn't he profit by their watch to take his own slumbers in peace?
"That'll be a joke, eh?"
"Wait for me," said the girl. "I won't be a jiffy; then we'll go together."
The man and the woman waited, and in a few minutes the girl had finished her task and the two carts, laden with artichokes, went towards the village. Perrine stood in the deserted road looking at the two fields, which presented such a difference in appearance. One was completely stripped of its vegetables; the other was filled with a splendid crop. At the end of the field was a little hut made of branches where the man who watched the field had slept. Perrine decided that she would stay there for the night, now that she knew it would not be occupied by the watch. She did not fear that she would be disturbed, yet she dared not take possession of the place until it was quite dark. She sat down by a ditch and waited, thankful that she had found what she wanted. Then at last, when it was quite dark and all was quiet, she picked her way carefully over the beds of artichokes and slipped into the hut. It was better inside than she had hoped, for the ground was covered with straw and there was a wooden box that would serve her for a pillow.
Ever since she had run from the baker's shop it had seemed to her that she was like a tracked animal, and more than once she had looked behind her with fear, half expecting to see the police on her heels.
She felt now in the hut that she was safe. Her nerves relaxed. After a few minutes she realized that she had another cause for anxiety. She was hungry, very hungry. While she was tramping along the roads, overwhelmed by her great loss, it had seemed to her that she would never want to eat or drink again. She felt the pangs of hunger now and she had only one sou left. How could she live on one sou for five or six days? This was a very serious question. But then, had she not found shelter for the night; perhaps she would find food for the morrow.
She closed her eyes, her long black lashes heavy with tears. The last thing at night she had always thought of her dead father; now it was the spirits of both her father and her mother that seemed to hover around her. Again and again she stretched out her arms in the darkness to them, and then, worn out with fatigue, with a sob she dropped off to sleep.
But although she was tired out, her slumbers were broken. She turned and tossed on the straw. Every now and again the rumbling of a cart on the road would wake her, and sometimes some mysterious noise, which in the silence of the night made her heart beat quickly. Then it seemed to her that she heard a cart stop near the hut on the road. She raised herself on her elbow to listen.
She had not made a mistake; she heard some whispering. She sprang to her feet and looked through the cracks of the hut. A cart had stopped at the end of the field, and by the pale light from the stars she could dimly see the form of a man or woman throwing out baskets to two others, who carried them into the field. This was Monneau's lot. What did it mean at such an hour? Had Monneau come so late to cut his artichokes?
Then she understood! These were the thieves! They had come to strip Monneau's field! They quickly cut the artichoke heads and heaped them up in the baskets. The woman had taken the cart away; evidently they did not want it to stay on the road while they worked for fear of attracting the attention of anyone passing by.
What would happen to her if the thieves saw her? She had heard that thieves sometimes killed a person who caught them at their work. There was the chance that they would not discover her. For they certainly knew that the hut would not be occupied on this night that they had planned to strip the field. But if they caught her? And then ... if they were arrested, she would be taken with them!
At this thought cold beads of perspiration broke out on her forehead. Thieves work quickly; they would soon have finished!
But presently they were disturbed. From the distance could be heard the noise of a cart on the paved road. As it drew nearer they hid themselves, lying down flat between the artichoke beds.
The cart passed. Then they went on with their work even more quickly. In spite of their feverish haste it seemed to little Perrine that they would never be finished. Every moment she feared that someone would come and catch them and she be arrested with them.
If she could only get away. She looked about her to see if it were possible for her to leave the hut. This could easily be done, but then they would be sure to see her once she was on the road. It would be better to remain where she was.
She lay down again and pretended to sleep. As it was impossible for her to go out without being seen, it was wiser to pretend that she had not seen anything if they should come into the hut.
For some time they went on cutting the artichokes. Then there was another noise on the road. It was their cart coming back. It stopped at the end of the field. In a few minutes the baskets were all stowed in the cart and the thieves jumped in and drove off hurriedly in the direction of Paris.
If she had known the hour she could have slept until dawn, but not knowing how long she had been there, she thought that it would be better if she went on her way. In the country people are about at an early hour. If, when day broke, the laborers going to work saw her coming out of the hut, or even if they saw her round about the field, they might suspect her of having been with the thieves and arrest her.
So she slipped out of the hut, ears on the alert for the slightest noise, eyes glancing in every direction.
She reached the main road, then hurried off. The stars in the skies above were disappearing, and from the east a faint streak of light lit the shadows of the night and announced the approach of day.
STORMS AND FEARS
She had not walked far before she saw in the distance a black mass silhouetted against the dawning light to the grey sky. Chimneys, houses and steeples rose up in the coming dawn, leaving the rest of the landscape obscure in the shadows.
She reached the first straggling cottages of the village. Instinctively she trod more softly on the paved road. This was a useless precaution, for with the exception of the cats which ran about the streets, everyone slept, and her little footsteps only awoke a few dogs who barked at her behind closed gates.
She was famished; she was weak and faint with hunger.
What would become of her if she dropped unconscious? She was afraid she might soon. So that this would not happen, she thought it better to rest a minute, and as she was now passing before a barn full of hay, she went in quietly and threw herself down on the soft bed. The rest, the warmth, and also the sweet smell of the hay, soothed her and soon she slept.
When she awoke the sun was already high in the heavens and was casting its rays over the fields where men and women were busily at work.
The pangs of hunger were now more acute than ever. Her head whirled; she was so giddy that she could scarcely see where she went as she staggered on. She had just reached the top of a hill, and before her, close by, was the village with its shops. She would spend her last sou for a piece of bread! She had heard of people finding money on the road; perhaps she would find a coin tomorrow; anyhow, she must have a piece of bread now.
She looked carefully at the last sou she possessed. Poor little girl, she did not know the difference between real money and false, and although she thought this sou looked real, she was very nervous when she entered the first baker shop that she came across.
"Will you cut me a sou's worth of bread?" she asked, timidly.
The man behind the counter took from the basket a little penny roll and handed it to her. Instead of stretching out her hand, she hesitated.
"If you'll cut a piece for me," she said, "it doesn't matter if it is not today's bread."
The baker gave her a large piece of bread that had been on the counter for two or three days.
What did that matter? The great thing was that it was larger than the little penny roll. It was worth two rolls.
As soon as it was in her hand her mouth filled with water. But she would not eat it until she had got out of the village. This she did very quickly. As soon as she had passed the last house, she took her little knife from her pocket and made a cross on the piece of bread so as to be able to cut it into four equal parts. She took one piece, keeping the three others for the three following days, hoping that it might last her until she reached Amiens.
She had calculated this as she had hurried through the village, and it had seemed such an easy matter. But scarcely had she swallowed a mouthful of her little piece of bread than she felt that the strongest arguments had no power against hunger. She was famished! She must eat! The second piece followed the first, the third followed the second. Never had her will power been so weak. She was hungry; she must have it ... all ... all. Her only excuse was that the pieces were so tiny. When all four were put together, the whole only weighed a half a pound. And a whole pound would not have been enough for her in her ravenous condition. The day before she had only had a little cup of soup that Carp had given her. She devoured the fourth piece.
She went on her way. Although she had only just eaten her piece of bread, a terrible thought obsessed her. Where would she next get a mouthful? She now knew what torture she would have to go through ... the pangs of hunger were terrible to endure. Where should she get her next meal? She walked through two more villages. She was getting thirsty now, very thirsty. Her tongue was dry, her lips parched. She came to the last house in the village, but she did not dare ask for a glass of water. She had noticed that the people looked at her curiously, and even the dogs seemed to show their teeth at the ragged picture she presented.
She must walk on. The sun was very hot now, and her thirst became more intense as she tramped along the white road. There was not a tree along the road, and little clouds of dust rose around her every instant, making her lips more parched. Oh, for a drink of water! The palate of her mouth seemed hard, like a corn.
The fact that she was thirsty had not worried her at first. One did not have to go into a shop to buy water. Anybody could have it. When she saw a brook or a river she had only to make a cup of her hands and drink all she wanted. But she had walked miles in the dust and could see no sign of water. At last she picked up some little round stones and put them in her mouth. Her tongue seemed to be moister while she kept them there. She changed them from time to time, hoping that she would soon come to a brook.
Then suddenly the atmosphere changed, and although the heat was still suffocating, the sun was hidden. Thick black clouds filled the sky. A storm was coming on, there would be rain, and she would be able to hold her mouth up to it, or she could stoop down to the puddles that it made and drink!
The wind came up. A terrific swirl, carrying clouds of dust and leaves, swept over the country and battered down the crops, uprooting plants and shrubs in its mad fracas. Perrine could not withstand this whirlwind. As she was lifted off her feet, a deafening crash of thunder shook the earth. Throwing herself down in the ditch, she laid flat on her stomach, covering her mouth and her eyes with her two small hands. The thunder rolled heavily on.
A moment ago she had been mad with thirst and had prayed that the storm would break quickly; now she realized that the storm would not only bring thunder and rain, but lightning—terrible flashes of lightning that almost blinded her.
And there would be torrents of rain and hail! Where could she go? Her dress would be soaked, and how could she dry it?
She clambered out of the ditch. In the distance she saw a wood. She thought that she might find a nook there where she could take shelter.
She had no time to lose. It was very dark. The claps of thunder became more frequent and louder, and the vivid lightning played fantastically on the black sky.
Would she be able to reach the wood before the storm broke? She ran as quickly as her panting breath would allow, now and again casting a look behind her at the black clouds which seemed to be sweeping down upon her.
She had seen terrible storms in the mountains when travelling with her father and mother, but they were with her then; now she was alone. Not a soul near her in this desolate country. Fortunately the wind was behind her; it blew her along, at times carrying her off her feet. If she could only keep up this pace; the storm had not caught up with her yet.
Holding her elbows against her little body and bending forward, she ran on ... but the storm also made greater strides.
At this moment came a crash, louder and heavier. The storm was just over her now and the ground around her was cleaved with blue flames. It was better to stop running now; far better be drenched than struck down by lightning.
Soon a few drops of rain fell. Fortunately she was nearing the wood, and now she could distinguish clearly the great trees. A little more courage. Many times her father had told her that if one kept one's courage in times of danger one stood a better chance of being saved. She kept on.
When at last she entered the forest it was all so black and dark she could scarcely make out anything. Then suddenly a flash of lightning dazzled her, and in the vivid glare she thought she saw a little cabin not far away to which led a bad road hollowed with deep ruts. Again the lightning flashed across the darkness, and she saw that she had not made a mistake. About fifty steps farther on there was a little hut made of faggots, that the woodcutters had built.
She made a final dash; then, at the end of her strength, worn out and breathless, she sank down on the underbrush that covered the floor.
She had not regained her breath when a terrible noise filled the forest. The crash, mingled with the splintering of wood, was so terrific that she thought her end had come. The trees bent their trunks, twisting and writhing, and the dead branches fell everywhere with a dull, crackling sound.
Could her hut withstand this fury? She crawled to the opening. She had no time to think—a blue flame, followed by a frightful crash, threw her over, blinded and dazed. When she came to herself, astonished to find that she was still alive, she looked out and saw that a giant oak that stood near the hut had been struck by lightning. In falling its length the trunk had been stripped of its bark from top to bottom, and two of the biggest branches were twisted round its roots.
She crept back, trembling, terrified at the thought that Death had been so near her, so near that its terrible breath had laid her low. As she stood there, pale and shaking, she heard an extraordinary rolling sound, more powerful than that of an express train. It was the rain and the hail which was beating down on the forest. The cabin cracked from top to bottom; the roof bent under the fury of the tempest, but it did not fall in. No house, however solid, could be to her what this little hut was at this moment, and she was mistress of it.
She grew calm; she would wait here until the storm had passed. A sense of well-being stole over her, and although the thunder continued to rumble and the rain came down in a deluge, and the wind whistled through the trees, and the unchained tempest went on its mad way through the air and on the earth, she felt safe in her little hut. Then she made a pillow for her head from the underbrush, and stretching herself out, she fell asleep.
When she awoke the thunder had stopped, but the rain was still falling in a fine drizzle. The forest, with its solitude and silence, did not terrify her. She was refreshed from her long sleep and she liked her little cabin so much that she thought she would spend the night there. She at least had a roof over her head and a dry bed.
She did not know how long she had slept, but that did not matter; she would know when night came.
She had not washed herself since she had left Paris, and the dust which had covered her from head to foot made her skin smart. Now she was alone, and there was plenty of water in the ditch outside and she would profit by it.