Page:Stories by Foreign Authors (French II).djvu/42

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this wall whitewashed every ten years. It had just been whitened, and dazzled the village when the sun lighted it up in the middle of the day.

For twenty years old Merlier had been mayor of Rocreuse. He was esteemed for the fortune he had managed to make. He was supposed to be worth something like eighty thousand francs, laid up sou by sou. When he married Madeleine Guillard, who brought him the mill as her dowry, he hardly possessed anything but his two arms; but Madeleine never repented her choice, so well did he manage the affairs of the household. Now that his wife was dead, he remained a widower with his daughter Françoise. No doubt, he might have taken a rest, left his mill to sleep in the moss; but he would have been too much bored, and the house would have seemed dead to him. He kept on working, for the fun of it. Old Merlier was then a tall old man, with a long, silent face, never laughing, but very jolly internally, nevertheless. He had been chosen for mayor on account of his money, and also for the fine air he knew how to assume, when he married a couple.

Françoise Merlier was just eighteen. She did not pass for one of the beauties of the countryside; she was too puny. Up to the age of eleven she was even ugly. No one in Rocreuse could understand how the daughter of father and mother Merlier, both of them ruggedly built,