Nêne/Part 1/Chapter 2

< Nêne‎ | Part 1
Nêne by Ernest Pérochon, translator not mentioned
PART I. Chapter 2


MADELEINE was nearing the Corbier farm known as the "Moulinettes"—the "Little Mills." She had never been there before, but her brother had pointed out the way and besides she could see the new roof of the farmhouse, bright red through the trees. She stopped a moment to look. From a distance the place seemed comfortable and cheerful. Nevertheless she was afraid she might not get to feel at home there. Until now she had been only on large farms where the work was hard but simple and enjoyable. She was given her orders and did as she was told, with no care but to do her task well. She was told to wash, and she washed for twelve hours at a stretch, ate her soup and went to bed. In summer she was told to go harvesting, and she took her sickle and followed the men. It was hard work every day, especially as she had to do her woman's work as well, while the men took their mid-day nap.

But no one had ever told her: "Buy and sell: weigh the butter, give the thread to the weaver." Above all, no one had ever ordered her to take up the baby and change his diapers; to comfort him when he cried; to soothe and chide and cuddle him.

She had never managed anything or any one and whenever children were being discussed in her hearing, she said:

"I don't like them hanging around my skirts; they keep me from doing my work."

When old man Corbier had come to hire her, she had refused, with not a moment's hesitation. But he had insisted, making much of the advantages of the position offered: she'd be, in a way, the mistress of the house, instead of having to obey others; and she'd be only a couple of miles from her mother's. Besides, he himself, whose rheumatic legs kept him so much indoors, would help her in little ways and look after the children. Finally he offered her particularly good wages. So, at last, she gave in, really flattered in her self-esteem as a good and capable woman.

Now that she was drawing near the place, her fears returned. Yet, she walked on briskly. The little creatures in the hedges scattered as she passed; the lizards, hunting among the primroses and wild pansies, drew back swiftly and silently. The titmice and bullfinches rose from their nests and skipped to the upper branches; the blackbirds flew away suddenly with a great rustle of leaves. But none of the birds went far. She felt that they remained hidden there among the willows and holly bushes, and that they were peering out at her anxiously.

"What is this stranger up to, with her bundles and her noisy heels?"

But as she went straight on, they grew confident again and picked up the thread of their song.

Madeleine lifted her head to the tree-tops alive with birds, and she thought:

"Birds of my new home, I know you are welcoming me. Thank you, little dears!"

Her blue eyes lighted up her sunburned face.

"Little songsters of Paradise, are you making music for my wedding? Amen! But I am an old maid and I have no lover.… What fine little fiddlers you'd make and how gladly everybody would join in the procession behind you!"

A start interrupted her musings.

"Bad luck!"

Before her, ten steps away, a squirrel was calmly crossing the road. It was an evil omen. It took her breath away. She passed on quickly, turning back to look at the little animal that skipped away now with diabolical agility.

She reasoned with herself. Squirrels were plentiful in this country-side, so full of hazel and chestnuts; they must be crossing everybody's path. It was just old-fashioned superstition to be afraid.

She shrugged her shoulders and forced herself to smile. But it seemed to her that the sparrows fell silent, hiding away under the bushes. In the very middle of the road a strange shadow was wavering.

Madeleine looked up and saw a bird of prey planing high up in the air; and in the sunlight its great russet wings seemed quite black.