Grandmother Dear Part 10

"And my mother said gently,

"'How could'st thou ask such a thing, Marie?'

"And the bon papa looked at me with sad reproach; that was worse than all.

"So this day--the day that bon papa had given me the first apple of the season--I was to go to Chalet to tell my friends it could not be, I felt very cross and angry all the way there.

"'What have I done,' I said to myself, 'to be looked at as if I were wicked and ungrateful? Why should my life be given up to the fancies of a foolish old man like bon papa?'

"And when I got to Chalet and told my friends it was not to be, their regret and their disappointment made me still more displeased.

"'It is too much,' they all said, 'that you should be treated still like a bebe--you so tall and womanly that one might think you twenty.'

"'And if I were thee, Marie,' said one, 'I would go all the same. They would soon forgive thee when they found how well things would go with thee at Paris. How much money thou wouldst gain!'

"'But how could I go?' I asked.

"Then they all talked together and made a plan. The family was to leave Chalet the beginning of the week following, sooner than they had expected. I should ask leave from my mother to come again to say good-bye the same morning that they were to start, and instead of returning to Stefanos I should start with them for Paris. I had already seen the lady, a young creature who, pleased with my appearance, concerned herself little about anything else, and my friends would tell her I had accepted her offer. And for my clothes, I was to pack them up the evening before, and carry the parcel to a point on the road where the young man would meet me. They would not be many, for my pretty fete costumes, the dress of the country, which were my best possessions, would be of no use in Paris.

"'And once there,' said my friend, 'we will dress thee as thou should'st be dressed. For the journey I can lend thee a hat. Thou could'st not travel with that ridiculous foulard on thy head, hiding all thy pretty hair.'

"I remember there was a looking-glass in the room, and as Odette--that was the girl's name--said this, I glanced at myself. My poor foulard, I had thought it so pretty. It had been the 'nouvel an' of the bon papa!

But I would not listen to the voice of my heart. I set out on my return home quite determined to carry out my own way.

"It was such a hot walk that day. How well I remember it! my little young ladies and little Monsieur, you would hardly believe how one can remember things of fifty years ago and more, as if they were yesterday when one is old as I am! The weather had been very hot, and now the clouds looked black and threatening.

"'We shall have thunder,' I said to myself, and I tried to walk faster, but I was tired, and oh, so hot and thirsty. I put my hand in my pocket and drew out the apple, which I had forgotten. How refreshing it was!

"'Poor bon papa,' I said to myself. 'I wish he would not be so exacting.

I do not wish to make him unhappy, but what can I do? One cannot be all one's life a little child.'

"Still, softer thoughts were coming into my mind, I began to wish I had not given my decision, that I had said I would think it over. Paris was so far away; at home they might all be dead before I could hear, the poor bon papa above all; it was true he was getting very old.

"Just then, at a turn in the road, I found myself in face of Didier, Didier Larreya. He was walking fast, his face looked stern and troubled.

He stopped suddenly on seeing me; it was not often of late that we had spoken to each other. He had not looked with favour on my new friends, who on their side had made fun of him (though I had noticed the day of the wedding that Odette had been very ready to dance with him whenever he had asked her), and I had said to my silly self that he was jealous. So just now I would have passed him, but he stopped me.

"'It is going to thunder, Marie,' he said. 'We shall have a terrible storm. I came to meet thee, to tell thee to shelter at our house; I told thy mother I would do so. I have just been to thy house.'

"I felt angry for no reason. I did not like his watching me, and going to the house to be told of all my doings. I resented his saying 'thou' to me.

"'I thank you, Monsieur Didier,' I said stiffly. 'I can take care of myself. I have no wish to rest at your house. I prefer to go home,' and I turned to walk on.

"Didier looked at me, and the look in his eyes was very sad.

"'Then it is true,' he said.

"'What is true?'

"'That you are so changed'--he did not say 'thou'--'that you wish to go away and leave us all. The poor bon papa is right.'

"'What has bon papa been saying?' I cried, more and more angry, 'What is it to you what I do? Attend to your own affairs, I beg you, Monsieur Didier Larreya, and leave me mine.'

"Didier stopped, and before I knew what he was doing, took both my hands in his.

"'Listen, Marie,' he said. 'You _must_. You are scarcely more than a child, and I was glad for you to be so. It would not be me that would wish to see you all wise, all settled down like an old woman at your age.

But you force me to say what I had not wished to say yet for a long time.

I am older than you, eight years older, and I know my own mind. Marie, you know how I care for you, how I have always cared for you, you know what I hope may be some day? Has my voice no weight with you? I do not ask you now to say you care for me, you are too young, but I thought you would perhaps learn, but to think of you going away to Paris? Oh, my little Marie, you would never return to us the same!"

"He stopped, and for a moment I stood still without speaking. In spite of myself he made me listen. He seemed to have guessed that though my parents had forbidden it, I had not yet given up the thoughts of going away, and in spite of my silly pride and my temper I was much touched by what he said, and the thought that if I went away he would leave off caring for me came to me like a great shock. I had never thought of it like that; I had always fancied that whatever I did I could keep Didier devoted to me; I had amused myself with picturing my return from Paris quite a grand lady, and how I would pretend to be changed to Didier, just to tease him. But now something in his manner showed me this would not do; if I defied him and my friends now, he would no longer care for me.

Yet--would you believe it, my little young ladies and young Monsieur?--my naughty pride still kept me back. I turned from Didier in a rage, and pulled away my hands.

"'I wish none of your advice or interference,' I said. 'I shall please myself in my affairs.'

"I hurried away; he did not attempt to stop me, but stood there for a moment watching me.

"'Good-bye, Marie,' he said, and then he called after me, 'Beware of the storm.'

"I had still two miles to go. I hurried on, passing the Larreyas' farm, and just a minute or two after that the storm began. I heard it come grumbling up, as if out of the heart of the mountains at first, and then it seemed to rise higher and higher. I was not frightened, but yet I saw it was going to be a great storm--you do not know, my young ladies, what storms we have here sometimes--and I was so hot and so tired, and when the anger began to pass away I felt so miserable. I could not bear to go home and see them all with the knowledge in my heart of what I intended to do. When I got near to the orchard, which was about a quarter of a mile from the house, I felt, with all my feelings together, as if I could go no farther. The storm seemed to be passing over--for some minutes there had been no lightning or thunder.

"'Perhaps after all it will only skirt round about us,' I said. And as I thought this I entered the orchard and sat down on my own seat, a little bench that--now many years ago--the bon papa had placed for me with his own hands beside my pommier.

"I was so tired and so hot and so unhappy, I sat and cried.

"'I wish I had not said I would go,' I thought. 'Now if I change one will mock so at me.'

"I leaned my head against the trunk of my tree. I had forgotten about the storm. Suddenly, more suddenly than I can tell, there came a fearful flash of lightning--all about me seemed for a moment on fire--then the dreadful boom of the thunder as if it would shake the earth itself to pieces, and a tearing crashing sound like none I had ever heard before.

I screamed and threw myself on the ground, covering my eyes. For a moment I thought I was killed--that a punishment had come to me for my disobedience. 'Oh! I will not go away. I will do what you all wish,' I called out, as if my parents could hear me. 'Bon papa, forgive me. Thy little girl wishes no longer to leave thee;' but no one answered, and I lay there in terror. Gradually I grew calmer--after that fearful crash the thunder claps seemed to grow less violent. I looked up at last. What did I see? The tree next to my pommier--the one but a yard or two from my bench--stood black and charred as if the burning hand of a great giant had grasped it; already some of its branches strewed the ground. And my pommier had not altogether escaped; one branch had been struck--the very branch on the sunny side from which bon papa had picked the apple, as he afterwards showed me! That my life had been spared was little less than a miracle." Marie paused....

[Illustration: UNDER THE APPLE-TREE.]

"I left the orchard, my little young ladies and young Monsieur," she went on after a moment or two, "a very different girl from the one that had entered it. I went straight to the house, and confessed all--my naughty intention of leaving them all, my discontent and pride, and all my bad feelings. And they forgave me--the good people--they forgave me all, and bon papa took me in his arms and blessed me, and I promised him not to leave him while he lived. Nor did I--it was not so long--he died the next year, the dear old man! What would my feelings have been had I been away in Paris?"

Old as she was, Marie stopped to wipe away a tear. "It is nearly sixty years ago, yet still the tears come when I think of it," she said. "He would not know me now if he saw me, the dear bon papa," she added. "I am as old as he was then! How it will be in heaven I wonder often--for friends so changed to meet again? But that we must leave to the good God; without doubt He will arrange it all."

"And Didier, Marie?" said Sylvia, after a little pause. "Did you also make friends with him?"

Marie smiled, and underneath her funny old brown wrinkled skin I almost think she blushed a little.

"Ah yes, Mademoiselle," she said. "That goes without saying. Ah yes--Didier was not slow to make friends again--and though we said nothing about it for a long time, not till I was in the twenties, it came all as he wished in the end. And a good husband he made me."

"Oh!" cried Molly, "I see--then _that's_ how your name is 'Larreya' too, Marie."

They all laughed at her.

"But grandmother said you had many more troubles, Marie," said Sylvia.

"Long after, when first she knew you. She said you would tell us."

"Ah yes, that is because the dear lady wishes not herself to tell how good she was to me!" said Marie. "I had many troubles after my husband died. I told you my son Louis was a great grief, and we were poor--very poor--I had a little fruit-stall at the market--"

Chapter end

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