The noise ceased.
René-Jean remained thoughtful.
How are ideas lormed and scattered in these little brains? What is the mysterious commotion in their memories so dim and as yet so short? In this sweet, pensive mind arose a mixture of the good God, prayer, folded hands, a strange tender smile that used to rest on them, and that they had no longer, and René-Jean murmured, half aloud: "Mamma."
"Mamma," said Gros-Alain.
"M'ma," said Georgette,
And then René-Jean began to jump.
Seeing him jump, Gross-Alain jumped too.
Gros-Alain followed René-Jean's example in all his movements and gestures; Georgette not so much. Three years copies four years; but twenty months keeps its independence.
Georgette remained seated, saying a word now and then. Georgette did not put words together.
She was a thinker; she spoke in apothegms. She was monosyllabic.
Nevertheless, after a time, their example affected her, and she finally tried to do as her brothers were doing, and these three little pairs of bare feet began to dance, to run and totter in the dust on the old, polished oak floor, under the serious eyes of the marble busts, toward which Georgette occasionally cast an anxious glance, murmuring,—
In Georgette's language a mummum was anything which looked like a man without really being one. Beings seem like phantoms to young children.
Georgette, swaying rather than walking, followed her brothers, but generally she preferred to go on all fours.
Suddenly, René-Jean, as he was approaching a window, raised his head, then dropped it and ran to hide in the corner of the wall made by the window embrasure.
He had just seen some one looking at him. It was a soldier of the Blues from the encampment on the plateau who, taking advantage of the truce and perhaps infringing on it a little, had ventured to the edge of the ravine where he could look into the library. Seeing René-Jean hide, Gros-Alain ran to hide; he took refuge beside René-Jean, and Georgette hid behind them. They stayed there in silence, perfectly still, and Georgette put her finger on her lips. After a few moments René-Jean ventured to put out his head; the soldier was still there. René-Jean drew his head back quickly; and the three little ones did not dare to breathe. This lasted for some time. At last Georgette grew tired of being afraid, and was bold enough to look out. The soldier had gone. They began to run and play again.
Gros-Alain, besides imitating and admiring René-Jean, had a specialty,—that of making discoveries. His brother and sister saw him suddenly whirl wildly around, dragging after him a little wagon with four wheels, which he had brought to light from some corner.
This doll's carriage had been in the dust for years, forgotten,—a good neighbor to the books of geniuses and the busts of wise men. It was perhaps one of the toys which Gauvain had played with when he was a child.
Gros-Alain had made a whip with the string, and was snapping it; it was very fine. Such are discoverers. When they do not discover America, they discover little carts. It is always thus.
But it must be shared. René-Jean wanted to draw the wagon, and Georgette wanted to get into it.
She tried to sit down in it. René-Jean was the horse. Gros-Alain was the driver.
But the driver did not understand his business, the horse had to teach him.
René-Jean cried to Gros-Alain,—
"Say, 'Go along.'"
"Go 'long!" repeated Gros-Alain.
The wagon upset. Georgette tumbled out. Angels can scream. Georgette screamed.
Then she felt half inclined to cry.
"Young lady," said René-Jean, "you are too big."
"I big," said Georgette.
And her size consoled her for her fall.
The cornice of entablature under the windows was very wide, the dust of the fields blown from the heather on the plateau had collected in heaps there; the rains had made earth of this dust; the wind had brought seeds to it, so that a briar had taken advantage of this bit of earth to take root there. This briar was the perennial variety called fox mulberry. It was August, the mulberry bush was covered with berries, and a branch of the briar came in through the window. This branch hung down almost to the floor.
Gros-Alain, after discovering the string, and discovering the wagon was the one to discover this briar. He went toward it.
He picked a berry and ate it.
"I'm hungry," said René-Jean.
And Georgette, galloping along on her knees and hands, came following after.
The three plundered the branch and ate all the berries. They were daubed and stained, and all red with the crimson juice of the berries; the three little seraphs were changed to three little fauns, which would have shocked Dante and charmed Virgil. They laughed aloud.
Occasionally, the briar pricked their fingers. No pleasure without pain.
Georgette held out her finger, from which oozed a little drop of blood, to René-Jean and said pointing to the briar, "Pricks."
Gros-Alain, who had been scratched too, looked scornfully at the briar and said,—
"It is a beast."
"No," replied René-Jean, "it is a stick."
"A naughty stick," added Gros-Alain.
Georgette, again felt like crying, but she began to laugh.