THE MASSACRE OF SAINT-BARTHOLOMEW
The children awoke.
The little girl first.
The wakening of children is like the opening of flowers; it seems as if a perfume came from their fresh souls.
Georgette, the one twenty months old, the youngest of the three, who was still nursing in May, raised her little head, sat up, looked at her feet, and began to prattle.
A ray of morning light fell on her crib; it would have been hard to tell which was the rosier, Georgette's foot or the dawn.
The other two were still asleep; men are more dull; Georgette, happy and serene, went on prattling.
René-Jean was dark, Gros-Alain was sandy, Georgette was fair. These shades of hair, in harmony with the age during childhood, may change later on. René-Jean looked like a little Hercules; he was sleeping on his stomach, with his two fists doubled up over his eyes. Both of Gros-Alain's legs were hanging out of his little bed.
All three were in rags; the clothes that the battalion of Bonnet-Rouge had given them were in tatters; they hadn't even a shirt on them; the two boys were almost naked. Georgette was dressed in a rag which had once been a skirt and was now nothing but a bodice. Who took care of these children? It was impossible to tell. No mother. These savage peasants, fighting, and dragging them along with them from forest to forest, gave them their share of soup. That was all. The little ones got on as they could. They had everybody for master, and no one for a father. But children's tatters are full of light. They were charming.
Georgette went on prattling.
What a bird sings, a child prattles. It is the same hymn. An indistinct hymn, lisped, profound. The child, more than the bird, has the mysterious destiny of man before it. Hence, the melancholy feeling of those who listen, mingled with the joy of the little one who sings. The sublimest song to be heard on the earth is the lisping of the human soul on the lips of children. This confused whispering of a thought, which is as yet only an instinct, contains a strange, unconscious appeal to eternal justice; perhaps it is a protestation on the threshold, before entering; a humble but poignant protestation; this ignorance smiling at the Infinite compromises all creation in the fate which is to be given to the feeble, helpless being. Misfortune, if it comes, will be an abuse of confidence.
The murmur of a child is more and less than speech; there are no notes, and yet it is a song; there are no syllables, and yet it is a language; this murmur had its beginning in heaven, and will not have its end on earth; it is before birth, and it will continue hereafter. This babbling is composed of what the child said when he was an angel, and of what he will say when he becomes a man; the cradle has a Yesterday, as much as the tomb has a Tomorrow; this to-morrow and this yesterday blend their double mystery in this unintelligible warbling; and nothing proves God, eternity, the responsibility, the duality of fate, like this awe-inspiring shadow on these rosy souls.
What Georgette was prattling about did not make her sad, for her whole lovely face beamed with a smile. Her mouth smiled, her eyes smiled, the dimples in her cheeks smiled. This smile revealed a mysterious acceptation of the morning. The soul has faith in light. The sky was blue, the weather was warm, it was beautiful. The frail creature, without knowing anything, without understanding anything, softly bathed in reverie where no thought is, felt secure in this nature, in these honest trees, in this sincere verdure, in this pure, peaceful country, in these sounds from nests, from brooks, flies, leaves, above which the vast innocence of the sun shone resplendent.
After Georgette, René-Jean, the oldest, the largest, the one who was four years old, awoke. He rose to his feet, gave a manly jump over the side of his basket, looked at his porringer, thought it quite natural, sat down on the floor and began to eat his soup.
Georgette's prattling had not waken Gros-Alain, but at the sound of the spoon in the porringer, he turned over with a start, and opened his eyes. Gros-Alain was the one three years old. He saw his porringer, it was within reach, he took it and without getting out of bed placed the porringer on his knees, took the spoon in his hand, and like René-Jean began to eat.
Georgette did not hear them, and the undulations of her voice seemed to modulate the rocking of a dream. Her large open eyes were looking up and were divine; whether the ceiling or the heavens be above a child's head, it is always the sky which is reflected in its eyes.
When René-Jean had finished, he scraped the bottom of the porringer with his spoon, sighed, and said with dignity,—
"I have eaten my soup."
This woke Georgette from her reverie.
"Poupoupe," said she.
And seeing that René-Jean had eaten his, and that Gros-Alain was eating, she took the porringer of soup beside her, and began also to eat, carrying her spoon much oftener to her ear than to her mouth.
From time to time, she renounced civilization and ate with her fingers.
Gros-Alain after having scraped the bottom of the porringer as his brother had done, went to join him and ran behind him.