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Little Marie of Lehon
by [?]

‘Here comes our pretty little girl,’ I said to Kate, as we sat resting on the seat beside the footpath that leads from Dinan on the hill to Lehon in the valley.

Yes, there she was, trotting toward us in her round cap, blue woollen gown, white apron, and wooden shoes. On her head was a loaf of buckwheat bread as big as a small wheel, in one hand a basket full of green stuff, while the other led an old goat, who seemed in no hurry to get home. We had often seen this rosy, bright-eyed child, had nodded to her, but never spoken, for she looked rather shy, and always seemed in haste. Now the sight of the goat reminded us of an excuse for addressing her, and as she was about to pass with the respectful little curtsey of the country, my friend said in French:–

‘Stay please. I want to speak to you.’ She stopped at once and stood looking at us under her long eyelashes in a timid yet confiding way, very pretty to see.

‘We want to drink goat’s milk every morning: can you let us have it, little one?’

‘Oh, yes, mademoiselle! Nannette gives fine milk, and no one has yet engaged her,’ answered the child, her whole face brightening at the prospect.

‘What name have you?’

‘Marie Rosier, mademoiselle.’

‘And you live at Lehon?’

‘Yes, mademoiselle.’

‘Have you parents?’

‘Truly, yes, of the best. My father has a loom, my mother works in the field and mill with brother Yvon, and I go to school and care for Nannette and nurse little Bebe.’

‘What school?’

‘At the convent, mademoiselle. The good sisters teach us the catechism, also to write and read and sew. I like it much,’ and Marie glanced at the little prayer in her apron pocket, as if proud to show she could read it.

‘What age have you?’

‘Ten years, mademoiselle.’

‘You are young to do so much, for we often see you in the market buying and selling, and sometimes digging in your garden there below, and bringing water from the river. Do you love work as well as school?’

‘Ah, no; but mademoiselle knows it is necessary to work: every one does, and I’m glad to do my part. Yvon works much harder than I, and the father sits all day at his loom, yet he is sick and suffers much. Yes, I am truly glad to help,’ and little Marie settled the big loaf as if quite ready to bear her share of the burdens.

‘Shall we go and see your father about the goat? and if he agrees will you bring the milk fresh and warm every morning?’ I asked, thinking that a sight of that blooming face would brighten our days for us.

‘Oh, yes! I always do it for the ladies, and you will find the milk quite fresh and warm, hey, Nannette?’ and Marie laughed as she pulled the goat from the hedge where she was nibbling the young leaves.

We followed the child as she went clattering down the stony path, and soon came into the narrow street bounded on one side by the row of low, stone houses, and on the other by the green wet meadow full of willows, and the rapid mill-stream. All along this side of the road sat women and children, stripping the bark from willow twigs to be used in basket-making. A busy sight and a cheerful one; for the women gossiped in their high, clear voices, the children sang and laughed, and the babies crept about as freely as young lambs.

We found Marie’s home a very poor one. Only two rooms in the little hut, the lower one with its earthen floor, beds in the wall, smoky fire, and single window where the loom stood. At it sat a pale, dark man who stopped work as we entered, and seemed glad to rest while we talked to him, or rather while Kate did, for I could not understand his odd French, and preferred to watch Marie during the making of the bargain.