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Grandmother Dear Part 9

"What is the little story about?" repeated grandmother. "I can hardly tell you what it is about, without telling the whole. The _name_ of it--the name your uncle gave to it, was 'That Cad Sawyer.'"

Ralph said nothing, but somehow he had a consciousness that grandmother did not agree with him that carrying a bundle of wood through the streets proved that "a fellow" must certainly be a cad.

CHAPTER VI.

THE APPLE-TREE OF STeFANOS.

"And age recounts the feats of youth."

THOMSON.

"I was the only daughter among nine children," began old Marie, when the girls and Ralph had made her sit down in their own parlour, and they had all drunk her "good health and many happy returns" in raspberry vinegar and water, and then teased her till she consented to tell them her story.

"That is to say, my little young ladies and young Monsieur, I had eight brothers. Not all my own brothers: my father had married twice, you see.

And always when the babies came they wanted a little girl, for in the family of my grandfather too, there were but three boys, my father and his two brothers, and never a sister. And so one can imagine how I was feted when I came, and of all none was so pleased as the old 'bon papa,'

my father's father. He was already very old: in our family we have been prudent and not married boy and girl, as so many do now, and wish often they could undo it again. Before he had married he had saved and laid by, and for his sons there was something for each when they too started in life. For my father there was the cottage and the little farm at Stefanos."

"Where is Stefanos, Marie?" interrupted Ralph.

"Not so far, my little Monsieur; nine kilometers perhaps from Chalet."

"Nine kilometres; between five and six miles? We must have passed it when we were driving," said Ralph.

"Without doubt," replied Marie. "Well, as I was saying, my father had the paternal house at Stefanos for his when he married, and my uncles went to the towns and did for themselves with their portions. And the bon papa came, of course, to live with us. He was a kind old man--I remember him well--and he must have had need of patience in a household of eight noisy boys. They were the talk of the country, such fine men, and I, when I came, was such a tiny little thing, you would hardly believe there could be a child so small! And yet there was great joy. 'We have a girl at last,' they all cried, and as for the bon papa he knew not what to do for pleasure.

"I shall have a little grand-daughter to lead me about when my sight is gone, I shall live the longer for this gift of thine,' he said to my mother, whom he was very fond of. She was a good daughter-in-law to him.

She shall be called 'Marie, shall she not? The first girl, and so long looked for. And, Eulalie,' he told my mother, 'this day, the day of her birth, I shall plant an apple-tree, a seedling of the best stock, a 'reinette,' in the best corner of the orchard, and it shall be her tree.

They shall grow together, and to both we will give the best care, and as the one prospers the other will prosper, and when trouble comes to the one, the other will droop and fade till again the storms have passed away. The tree shall be called 'le pommier de la petite.'"

"My mother smiled; she thought it the fancy of the old man, but she was pleased he should so occupy himself with the little baby girl. And he did as he said: that very day he planted the apple-tree in the sunniest corner of the orchard. And he gave it the best of his care; it was watered in dry weather, the earth about its roots was kept loose, and enriched with careful manuring; no grass or weeds were allowed to cling about it, never was an apple-tree better tended."

Marie paused. "It is not always those that get the most care that do the best in this world," she said, with a sigh. "There was my Louis, our eldest, I thought nothing of the others compared with him! and he ran away to sea and nearly broke my heart."

"Did he ever come back again?" asked the children. Old Marie shook her head.

"Never," she said. "But I got a letter that he had got the cure somewhere in the Amerique du sud--I know not where, I have not learnt all about the geography like these little young ladies--to write for him, before he died of the yellow fever. And he asked me to forgive him all the sorrows he had caused me: it was a good letter, and it consoled me much. That was a long time ago; my Louis would have been in the fifties by now, and my other children were obedient. The good God sends us comfort."

"And about the apple-tree, tell us more, Marie," said Molly. "Did it do well?"

"Indeed yes. Mademoiselle can judge, are not the apples good? Ah, yes, it did well, it grew and it grew, and the first walk I could take with the hand of the bon papa was to the apple-tree. And the first words I could say were 'Mi pommier a Malie.' Before many years there were apples, not so fine at the first, of course, but every year they grew finer and finer, and always they were for me. What we did not eat were sold, and the money given to me to keep for the Carnival, when the bon papa would take me to the town to see the sights."

"And did you grow finer and finer too, Marie?" said Sylvia.

Marie smiled.

"I grew strong and tall, Mademoiselle," she said. "As for more than that it is not for me to say. But _they_ all thought so, the father and mother and the eight brothers, and the bon papa, of course, most of all. And so you see, Mademoiselle, the end was I got spoilt."

"But the apple-tree didn't?"

"No, the apple-tree did its work well. Only I was forgetting to tell you there came a bad year. Everything was bad--the cows died, the harvest was poor, the fruit failed. To the last, the bon papa hoped that 'le pommier de la petite' would do well, though nothing else did, but it was not so.

There was a good show of blossom, but when it came to the apples, _every one_ was blighted. And the strange thing was, my little young ladies and little Monsieur, that that was the year the small-pox came--ah, it was a dreadful year!--and we all caught it."

"_All?_" exclaimed Sylvia.

"Yes, indeed, Mademoiselle--all the seven, that is to say, that were at home. I cannot remember it well--I was myself too ill, but we all had it.

I was the worst, and they thought I would die. It was not the disease itself, but the weakness after that nearly killed me. And the poor bon papa would shake his head and say he might have known what was coming, by the apple-tree. And my mother would console him--she, poor thing, who so much needed consoling herself--by saying, 'Come, now, bon papa, the apple-tree lives still, and doubtless by next year it will again be covered with beautiful fruit. Let us hope well that our little one will also recover.' And little by little I began to mend--the mother's words came true--by the spring time I was as well as ever again, and the six brothers too. All of us recovered; we were strong, you see, very strong.

And after that I grew so fast--soon I seemed quite a young woman."

"And did the small-pox not spoil your beauty, Marie?" inquired Sylvia with some little hesitation. It was impossible to tell from the old woman's face now whether the terrible visitor had left its traces or not; she was so brown and weather worn--her skin so dried and wrinkled--only the eyes were still fine, dark, bright and keen, yet with the soft far-away look too, so beautiful in an old face.

"No, Mademoiselle," Marie replied navely, "that was the curious part of it. There were some, my neighbour Didier for one, the son of the farmer Larreya----"

"Why, Marie, that's _your_ name," interrupted Molly. "'Marie Larreya,'--I wrote it down the other day because I thought it such a funny name when grandmother told it me."

"Well, well, Molly," said Sylvia, "there are often many people of the same name in a neighbourhood. Do let Marie tell her own story."

"As I was saying," continued Marie, "many people said I had got prettier with being ill. I can't tell if it was true, but I was thankful not to be marked: you see the illness itself was not so bad with me as the weakness after. But I got quite well again, and that was the summer I was sixteen.

My eldest brother was married that summer,--he was one of the two sons of my father's first marriage and he had been away for already some time from the paternal house. He married a young girl from Chalet; and ah, but we danced well at the marriage! I danced most of all the girls--there was my old friend Didier who wanted every dance, and glad enough I would have been to dance with him--so tall and straight he was--but for some new friends I made that day. They were the cousins of my brother's young wife--two of them from Chalet, one a maid in a family from Paris, and with them there came a young man who was a servant in the same family.

They were pleasant, good-natured girls, and for the young man, there was no harm in him; but their talk quite turned my silly head. They talked of Chalet and how grandly the ladies there were dressed, and still more of Paris--the two who knew it--till I felt quite ashamed of being only a country girl, and the fete-day costume I had put on in the morning so proudly, I wished I could tear off and dress like my new friends. And when Didier came again to ask me to dance, I pushed him away and told him he tired me asking me so often. Poor Didier! I remember so well how he looked--as if he could not understand me--like our great sheep-dog, that would stare up with his soft sad eyes if ever I spoke roughly to him!

"That day was the beginning of much trouble for me. I got in the way of going to Chalet whenever I could get leave, to see my new friends, who were always full of some plan to amuse themselves and me, and my home where I had been so happy I seemed no longer to care for. I must have grieved them all, but I thought not of it--my head was quite turned.

"One day I was setting off for Chalet to spend the afternoon, when, just as I was leaving, the bon papa stopped me.

"'Here, my child,' he said, holding out to me an apple; 'this is the first of this season's on thy pommier. I gathered it this morning--see, it is quite ripe--it was on the sunny side. Take it; thou mayest, perhaps, feel tired on the way.'

"I took it carelessly.

"'Thanks, bon papa,' I said, as I put it in my pocket. Bon papa looked at me sadly.

"'It is never now as it used to be,' he said. 'My little girl has never a moment now to spare for the poor old man. And she would even wish to leave him for ever; for thou knowest well, my child, I could not live with the thought of thee so far away. When my little girl returned she would find no old grandfather, he would be lying in the cold church-yard.'

"The poor old man held out his arms to me, but I turned away. I saw that his eyes were filled with tears--he was growing so feeble now--and I saw, too, that my mother, who was ironing at the table--work in which I could have helped her--stooped to wipe away a tear with the corner of her apron. But I did not care--my heart was hard, my little young ladies and young Monsieur--my heart was hard, and I would not listen to the voices that were speaking in my conscience.

"'It is too bad,' I said, 'that the chances of one's life should be spoilt for such fancies;' and I went quickly out of the cottage and shut the door. But as I went I saw my poor bon papa lift his head, which he had bent down on his hands, and say to my mother,

"'There will be no more apples this year on the pommier de la petite.

Thou wilt see, my daughter, the fortune of the tree will leave it.'

"I heard my mother say something meant to comfort him, but I only hurried away the faster.

"What my grandfather meant about my wishing to leave him was this,--my new friends had put it in my head to ask my parents to consent to my going to Paris with the family in which the two that I told you of were maid and valet. They had spoken of me to their lady; she knew I had not much experience, and had never left home. She did not care for that, she said. She wanted a nice pretty girl to amuse her little boy, and walk out with him. And of course the young man, the valet, told me he knew she could not find a girl so pretty as I anywhere! I would find when I got to Paris, he said, how I would be admired, and then I would rejoice that I had not stayed in my stupid little village, where it mattered not if one had a pretty face or not. I had come home quite full of the idea--quite confident that, as I had always done exactly what I wished, I would meet with no difficulty. But to my astonishment, at the paternal house, one would not hear of such a thing!

"'To leave us--thou, our only girl--to go away to that great Paris, where one is so wicked--where none would guard thee or care for thee? No, it is not to be thought of,' said my father with decision; and though he was a quiet man who seldom interfered in the affairs of the house, I knew well that once that he had said a thing with decision, it was done with--it would be so.

Chapter end

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