THE FOLK AFIELD
BY THE SAME AUTHOR
chudren of the mist
sons of the morning
the striking hours
the american prisoner
the secret woman
knock at a vbn*tcre
THE HUMAN BOY
MY DEVON YEAR
DP ALONG AND DO^^'N ALONG
THE FOLK AFIELD
xMETHUEN .S: CO.
36 ESSEX STREET W.C.
First Published in tgo-}
WITH VERY SINCERE REGARD
The Earthquake Child
Souvenir de Maupassant
Hyacinthe and Honorine
The Skipper's Bible
In the King's Chamber .
The Grasse Widow
Jane and John
The Old Shrine
Pilgrimage to Pigna
The Cup of the Caldera
The Cabin Boy
" PiERROTIN " FROM PaRIS
Pete and Pete
THE FOLK AFIELD
THE EARTHQUAKE CHILD
ANNETTE FOY and Georges Leblond sat hand in
hand and looked at their home. They had
found a Httle nest in the brown bosom of Mount
Orso, and not far distant, upon the saddle of stone
between this towering hill and the next, there perched
the mountain village of Castillon in the Maritime Alps.
A tunnel pierces this ridge and carries the high road
under the col.
The hamlet seemed to hang in air, lifted, like some
fairy village delicate of fabric, against the blue. Its
chimneys and little church tower rose from a lap of
great hills, and Castillon partook of the mountain
colours. The walls reflected something from the
austerity and snow of uplifted nature round about ; yet
brighter tones warmed the ancient stucco with pleasant
ochre and rose that suggested hope and humanity.
The tiles were scorched to a silvery pink by summer
suns ; faint music of children's voices murmured on the
air and told of young life and its interests.
Old Castillon grew out of the rock — or, rather,
2 THE FOLK AFIELD
throve fastened to it, like a sponge to a stone.
Around, feathered with pine or tawny-coated with the
dead foHage of last year's oak, the mountain-ridges
rose to jagged pinnacles, and fell through tremendous
gorges to the terraced hills beneath. Far below ran
the olive-belt, and above it a scented scrub of rose-
mary, myrtle, mastic, yielded slowly to that dwarfer,
hardier flora that knows frost and snow and brings
forth its bells and chalices behind the mists and storms
" 'Tis a hard and a cruel matter that Michel Foy
has set his face against me," declared Georges.
He was a gigantic man who, after serving his time in
the army, had been offered employment in a travelling
show, to use his huge arms in tossing weights and
performing feats of strength. But his mountain blood
called him home again. He dwelt with an ancient
aunt at Castillon, and worked among the charcoal-
burners — when he worked at all.
Georges moved his head on his sinewy neck,
wrinkled up a low forehead until hair and eyebrows
met, and gazed at the solemn, olive-hued visage of the
girl beside him. Annette twisted a purple hepatica in
her fingers, then listlessly plucked the petals. Her
eyes were turned to the amphitheatre of the hills, and
they mirrored the chaplet of snow that blazed ineffably
white upon the crest of far-off Mount Grosso.
" Michel is not as other men," she said. " I
cannot understand why he does not like you, and why
he turns our mother from you. What have you done
to make him so unkind .■* "
" Nothing at all. It is a secret jealousy that burns
him. I can think of no other cause."
THE EARTHQUAKE CHILD 3
" He is not the sort to be jealous. His heart is
soft and his patience is the pure, priceless present of
the angels to him when he was born all humped and
" He is crooked in mind as well as body ; otherwise
he would like me, as everybody else does,"
" I do not understand. It is so seldom that he
has an unkind word to say of anybody."
" He deceives you. He hides his heart. If you
could see it, you would find it as ugly as his head.
He is among men what the arisarum is among flowers
— a sick, mysterious, poisonous thing. Its striped
cowl and evil tongue are like a snake's, and when you
smell it first you think it good, and when you smell it
again you know it is the smell of death. I wish I
could trample him under foot."
" He is obstinate. He will not trust you. He
murmurs of things that came to his ears at Sospel."
Georges flushed and twirled up great bristling
moustaches. He was clearly embarrassed.
" Michel studies faces," continued Annette, " From
his seat in the shade at the gate he sees men and
women pass to and fro, and he learns to read faces as
other people learn to read books. He said that it is
not good for a man to have misty eyes and always to
look round after women, as you do."
" Bah I What does he know of women ? — mis-
shapen thing that he is ! How can wisdom come of
sitting in a corner .'' He talks with the children and
listens to their prattle all day long. Let him split the
reeds and make toys for the visitors. That is his work.
But bid him keep men out of his mind, and — and —
there again, Annette ! As I live, I felt it yet again ! "
4 THE FOLK AFIELD
The girl shivered and crept closer. She also
appreciated the strange and terrifying phenomenon of
which her lover spoke.
For three days there had been in this savage land
of mountains and deep ravines a rumour and a dreadful
threat of pending evil. The charcoal-burners from
remote forests first felt it ; then it seemed that some
fever worked in the veins of the earth and set her
enormous bosom throbbing from the peaks of snow to
the shores of the sea.
February of the year 1887 had come, and the
weather was much disturbed and unsettled. Glorious
days succeeded dark and stormy intervals. Then fell a
period of cold, and deep snow glittered almost to the
olive-belt. It had, however, quickly vanished before an
ardent sun. Old folks dimly recalled the last visita-
tion of earthquake, and shook their heads at the signs
of the sky ; young people felt a fearful joy in the threat
of Nature, and, in ignorance, secretly hoped that some
tremendous experience might fall upon their level lives.
The sun shone and the faint earth-tremor in the
hillside was not repeated.
It reminded Annette of her brother.
" Our mother always calls Michel * the earthquake-
child.' He came too soon, because there was a shock
sudden and unexpected. It broke down a wall here
and there, and opened a grave or two in the church-
yard. It also brought Michel into the world."
" Never did the shaking of mountains produce such
an ugly mouse then. He makes me mad, I tell you.
Your mother trusts him as if he were her guardian
angel. Michel is always wise and always right. How
can he be always wise and right — he who lives the life
THE EARTHQUAKE CHILD 5
of a lizard and has never been beyond Castillon or
looked at the world ? It is nonsense, and I am very
angry when I think that Zoe Foy lets him poison her
mind against me."
"You must make him listen to reason."
" I should like to make him feel reason ; but if I
flipped him with my finger-nail, I should kill him."
Georges rose, yawned, stretched his majestic arms,
and looked round him at the earth and sky.
" There is something coming," he said. " Perhaps
it is the end of the world. But that is nothing to me,
if I may not have you."
** The sky looks strange at dawn and at even. Do
these shakings come from the clouds or from the earth .-' "
" From God. He gets impatient sometimes and
can't keep His hands off this wretched little affair that
He has made. He gives us a push with His finger ;
then there is an earthquake, and people think more
about their prayers for a time. Some day God will
altogether lose His temper with the world."
" And then, Georges .<• "
" Then there will be no more world — no more
than there is of a soap-bubble when it bursts. Well,
I will stoop a little and talk to Michel myself."
They rose to return homeward, and their way
wound by a rocky path amid boulders and steep, torn
waterways, where torrents leaped at times of storm and
filled a brawling tributary of the distant Bevera. The
path was stained rust-red with mud from the boots of
the mountain-men ; by the way grew primroses and
violets ; and here and there fragments of charcoal, that
had fallen from the backs of passing mules, glittered
silver-bright under the sun.
MICHEL FOY sat on his little stool, and the boys
and girls crowded round him as usual. Most
of them were bigger than he was, and but for his thin
black whiskers, people had thought the young man's
pinched little face, sharp nose, and big ears belonged to
a hungry boy. He was often called the king of the
children, and he seldom wearied of his courtiers. He
told them stories and taught them craft of hand. With
stems of the great reed he busied his days and fashioned
every sort of quaint contrivance to tempt visitors.
From deep baskets for flowers to tiny cages for crickets
his labours ranged, and his brown fingers were never
idle. He seemed little more than a head, body, and
hands. His legs were shrunk and aborted, his muscular
development was very feeble, and he had to be carried
everywhere like a new-born baby, Zoe Foy's face
curiously resembled her son's, and her body was also
frail and feeble. But Annette lacked nothing of health
and strength ; she resembled her dead father, and was
several years younger than Michel.
That night his sister spoke with sharp words to the
little, yellow-faced cripple, and he answered very mildly,
according to his wont.
" Why do you hate the man who loves me so truly,
brother ? What harm has he done you ? It is very
well known that all good men like Georges Leblond."
" I do not hate him ; but I do not respect him, and
I do not trust him. I would not believe everybody.
THE EARTHQUAKE CHILD 7
but Cousin Magnat of Sospel I do believe, for he has
never said an untrue thing. Georges is a lazy man and
a libertine. He has good virtues, and is kind because
it is easiest to be kind. But I do not respect him, and
I do not at all wish you to marry him."
" Cousin Magnat is as good a man as walks the
earth," said Zoe, in a piping, crisp voice, like the
tinkling stridulation of a mole-cricket. " He would
have married me twenty-five years ago. And when I
refused him he never dropped a tear, but merely re-
mained a bachelor."
" He is as dry as a dead stick. How can he
judge a young man .-* " argued Annette.
" It is exceedingly easy to judge Georges Leblond,"
answered her brother. " Facts are facts. He has — I
won't say it ; you know very well what I mean. No
woman who is proud of women ought to marry him.
He is a crying shame and disgrace. God has given
him the strength of a horse, and he does nothing but
get people into trouble. The worms in the grass are
working more good in the world than he is."
" Why should you be so quick to believe Cousin
Magnat ? Has not Georges told me over and over
again that these stories about himself are not true .-'
Everybody knows they were invented at Sospel by that
long, crooked-eyed wretch, Luke Gronsac, because
Georges beat him in the games."
" It is vain to say so, Annette. You know as well
as I that Leblond does very bad things and makes
God sad. I am not one to say unkind words for fun.
But you are my own sister, and I love you dearly, and
I would rather die than see you that man's wife. Your
life would be one long wail."
8 THE FOLK AFIELD
" I know my own mind, however ; and I know the
big, warm heart of Georges."
" Warm enough and big enough — too big," said
Madame Foy. " Wait till the great, fat giant has
been married six months and you begin to grow as
familiar as his boots. Then his big warm heart will
begin to warm somebody else. He is like the lazy
humble-bees that boom and bumble from flower to
flower. He thinks only of himself. The hive is
nothing to him."
Michel turned bright, deep-set eyes upon his pout-
" You are only seventeen yet. Wait a year. Be
patient. I tell everybody to be patient. It is so easy
to me, but it seems so difficult for the rest. People with
legs can't be patient, apparently ; but it is quite simple
if you have none — only two bent straws instead. Wait
a year, Annette, and try him. Tell him to work hard
for a whole year, and save up some francs, and take a
better house, where there will be room for you as. well
as for his old aunt. That is not much to ask him, if
he really loves you and wants to be a good husband to
" It is not for me to dictate to him. He is as
knowing as you are. You think nobody is clever but
yourself, Michel Foy. Georges said some very wise
things — about God and earthquakes."
Fear fell on Zoe's face, and she came close to her
son. He put out his hands and took hers between them.
" Do not name that. It brings terror to our
mother, though I tell her that God is at the safety-valve
of the world, like Charles on the railway is at the safety-
valve of the engine."
THE EARTHQUAKE CHILD 9
"To-day the hills shook again under us," said
Annette, " and Georges swore that if he does not have
me, he would not care whether they swallowed him
" It is coming," piped the mother. " So I felt
before Michel was born. First a hush and a waiting,
as if the world had drawn in its breath deep and was too
frightened to let it out. Strange things happened
among the clouds. They took shapes of creatures that
nobody ever saw. The lightning fell like rain. It
melted a man's watch in his pocket, but killed only one
side of him. The other side went on living for five
" Don't be frightened. If it comes, it comes. An
earthquake is no more to God than to set a mole
burrowing under a tuft of grass. Perhaps He has great
moles deep in the earth that can shake mountains when
He calls them to work. I do not know how you can
fear, mother," declared Michel.
" But you will know," she said, " if there is an
earthquake. No living soul ever went through that
and feared not. God means them to frighten us. He
knows that there is nothing like giving naughty children
a good shake now and then."
In the silence that followed remote thunder rolled
and reverberated where the peaks and gorges of the
mountains caught it and tossed it back and forward.
No lightning followed, but the night was very dark.
This thunder fell strangely on ears familiar with thunder.
There was a long-drawn, hollow under-sound, as of a
great wind, and it persisted after the rumble and rattle
of the peal had passed by.
" That is no thunder," said Madame Foy. " That is
10 THE FOLK AFIELD
the groaning of the rocks opening and grinding together
deep down in the earth. It is the ribs of the world
cracking. It comes from below, not above. If you
put your ear to the ground it is louder."
" A great cliff slipped down in the Gourg dell' Ora
last night — so Papa Chambourlier told me," declared
Michel. " But hill, or vale, or sea, or our home here
on the crown of the col — it is all one. If an earth-
quake is coming, the ground is marked out for it. God
has set a seal on the mountains and houses and men
and women who are to fall. Even so the wood-cutter
puts his brand upon the trees. Only the thing that is
to happen can happen."
" Father Dumenil intends to pray for the earth to
grow quiet," said Madame Foy. " For my part, I
think he ought to have done it sooner. He is not
happy, and talks of going to Paris to see his relatives.
Foreign people at the coast are already packing up and
flying north and east,"
At this moment there came a knock at the door,
and a neighbour entered. He was a big, hairy man —
the stone-mason, Papa Chambourlier, just mentioned.
Nightly he came to carry Michel Foy to his bedroom,
while every morning he brought him down again ; and
for the office he received weekly payment of a new
wicker basket. Papa Chambourlier had lost a bad wife
fifteen years before, and persisted in a good temper ever
since. Some people fancied that he wanted to marry
Madame Foy, but Zoe and the mason knew better.
" Starless," he said. " Such darkness I never felt
by night until now. It touches you all over. The
thunder is in the ground. It comes up from the valley,
as though the soldiers were firing cannons there. The
THE EARTHQUAKE CHILD 11
air smells like a cave. There are warnings everywhere ;
but what is a man to do ? We cannot go and live like
dormice on the hills, or like sand-fleas on the beach."
Despite his words, Chambourlier showed no alarm.
He stopped and smoked awhile, jested with the family,
and told them the news at Castellar, where he was
working just then. Presently he picked up Michel as
though he were a guinea-fowl, and carried him to his
" Now be a good baby and go to sleep, and don't
wake up until the morning," said Papa Chambourlier.
He had made this joke every day for five years, and
Michel always nodded and laughed at it because the
mason liked to hear him do so.
/^ LD Castillon was honeycombed with passages that
^^ ran through dark archways out to the hillside.
Broad flights of steps also ascended to the piazza at the
highest point, and round about this paved space there
clustered houses and rose the church. To the west
stood a little enclosed burial-ground, and on every other
side cottages and walls and winding stairways grouped
together with bewildering confusion. In bright weather
deep shadows fell across the shining mural spaces, and
brave light blazed out of darkness where the sun flamed^
down through the chimney-pots and over the tiles.
Elsewhere perpetual gloom brooded in dark corners and
weeds sprouted amid the stones of unfrequented alley-
ways. The mountains hemmed in all — a girdle of
pine-green and hot, sun-baked browns and yellows in
summer-time ; and in winter a spectacle of lowering
clouds that rolled heavily away on golden days, to reveal
the serrated crown of snow-clad peaks.
Soon after her conversation with Michel, Annette
met Georges in the darkness of a sequestered nook,
grass-grown and neglected, beside the burial-ground.
Her mother's house stood near the church, a hundred
yards distant. It was one of the best in Castillon, and
Madame Foy not seldom mentioned the fact.
Annette told her lover what Michel had said, and the
strong man used bad words, indignantly denied the evil
reports, and finally declared that to her brother's unjust
obstinacy only one reply was possible.
THE EARTHQUAKE CHILD 13
" You must run away with me," he said. " Then
you shall know what it is to have a strong husband. I
will make a way for you through the world, and if
people stop the road, I will knock them down and
walk over them. It is no good being strong enough
to do three men's work if we are frightened of a
cross-grained little goblin like Michel. I shall not see
him. I shall run away with you instead."
" If we run away, where do we run to .-* " inquired
" To church," he said. " There is no difficulty at
all. Father Dumenil has wanted to marry me plenty
of times — at least, I mean, of course, when I can find
a wife. And now I have found you. You shall vanish
away from those who do not understand me ; and then,
when they begin to get unhappy, you shall return to
them on my arm. After we are married, there will be
nothing more to say."
He picked her up and kissed her.
" How strong you are ! I am like a little fly in
" And now I will use my strength to fight for you.
You shall hide at Sospel till the wedding is made ready.
The morning after to-morrow, while it is yet dark, I
shall come for you, and you must creep out like a
shadow. Then we return back again in a week or two,
and presently Michel and your mother will say : ' We
were quite wrong. Georges Leblond is a very good
fellow, and we love him.' "
" You will work and save francs so that we may
have a better house .-' "
"Abetter house.? What is the matter with my house.?"
" The matter is that it would be a very good cow-
14 THE FOLK AFIELD
shed, but it is a poor home for a young woman. Half
of it is no house at all, but only a cave in the rock."
" Well, it is true that my old aunt does not like the
house either. But as to making francs — nothing easier.
I promise to do so. If a man has the strength of three
men, he can of course make the francs of three men.
Anybody knows that."
" Then come before the dawn the day after to-
morrow. I trust you because I love you. And as
soon as it can be, we will be married. But mother and
Michel must know that I am safe and happy. I will
not go away unless you promise that."
" I promise. I want them to find that I am a
much better fellow than they think."
Presently the lovers parted on the understanding that
Annette would be ready to leave Castillon at the time ap-
pointed. Left alone, the big man considered his actions.
Marriage was quite the last thing in the world that he
proposed to himself.
That night the cry of the earth fell like a voice
on many sleepless ears, and the deep tremors of the
mountains awoke sounds and discords never heard
before. Walls, doors, roofs, and roof-trees spoke in
the darkness and uttered cries and whispers as though
they talked together. The stones murmured hoarsely,
the tiles grated, windows shattered, and it seemed that
unseen hands were shaking them. As the timbers of
ocean-going ships creak out their irregular, monotonous
answer to the waves, so now timbers of dwellings uttered
sustained sighs and groans. Sometimes an article fell
suddenly from shelf or ledge ; sometimes an open door
would gently shut itself, or a shut door would open
silently without visible agent.
OIGNS and wonders multiplied during the following
>^ day, and creatures humbler than men — beasts of
the field and air that had not shown fear until now —
began to behave strangely and reveal alarm. This
obvious dread displayed by the secret instinct and
understanding of unconscious life acted upon human
minds and served much to increase the general terror.
Heavy darkness hung like a canopy upon the
mountains. No direct ray penetrated it, but a light,
fulvous and sulky, as of some sinister planet, tinged the
cloud-billows with pale copper and stretched sickly
tentacles of fire across the purple depths. Creatures
behaved as at eclipse of the sun ; but to the sense of
night was added active fear. Fowls sought their
perches, yet would not sleep thereon. They main-
tained a subdued clucking. Domestic beasts crowded
close to man and put their faith in him. The cows
lowed in the byres and would not eat. The mules nosed
one another, started and kicked, and spoke their secret
thoughts and fears in one another's ears. Dogs
howled, showed the whites of their eyes, and heard
many things beyond the power of human ear.
From the coast came news that tidal waves were
rolling into Menton's Bay ; that a part of the break-
water was broken off like dry bread ; and that many
houses had started sudden flaws and cracks, which
grinned or frowned like mouths in their solid walls.
Day huddled to its close soon after noon, and at the
hour of February dusk, impenetrable gloom crowded
16 THE FOLK AFIELD
upon the mountains. The hills and valleys listened
and waited like sentient, watchful things. A vast
silence reigned. But this peace was broken at mid-
night by the under-growl and rumble now familiar to
human ears. Many were found watching on that night.
Michel Foy's heart was full of monitions, strange and
uncertain, that made him refuse Papa Chambourlier's
assistance when the mason arrived as usual to carry him
" No ; I sit up to-night," he said. " Something is
going to happen."
"You don't mean an earthquake, I hope.-* 'Tis to
men like you such secrets are whispered by Almighty
God — I know that very well ; but still I trust you are
" I cannot tell you what I feel ; it may be nothing
but my health. I do not think there will be an earth-
quake, except within this house. To be plain with you,
there is mystery here. Annette kissed me and went
to her bed very early. There were tears in her eyes.
That is most strange."