Peasant Autonomy
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Story 12

A village in Berry, in the centre of France – around 1790

Roast chestnuts

for bigger picture click on this photo

(Photo: Daniel Jolivet)

Centre of France.

“Let us make a fire, that's the best we can do” Marie says firmly. Germain doesn't like the idea. “How do you think you can start a fire in this wet forest? Everything is soaked through.” “Have you then never been a shepherd boy?” Marie asks, surprised. “Do you see that group of oaks, underneath it is dry. I can tell you, under those oak leaves you will find dry branches. Just get your tinderbox.”
Within a few minutes a good fire burns, and Germain and Marie can dry themselves, warm up and take some rest. “You are a clever girl, Marie, I have to say. No, I was never a shepherd boy. As soon as I could walk, I had to take care of the cows, and later on of the bullocks on our farm. Then you don't learn all of this.”

Marie is a sixteen-year-old shepherdess. She found work in another village. She dreaded the thought of leaving her mother, a poor widow without other family. But she had no choice, she had to earn some money. She feared even more to go there alone, because to get there you have to walk through a forest, and then, you never know who you will meet. Fortunately, she heard that Germain, a young, unmarried farmer in the neighbourhood, was going to the same village to visit a relative. So, they walked together. At the end of the afternoon a heavy fog rolled in, and they got lost in the middle of the forest. At some point it became pitch-dark, and they couldn't continue on.

for bigger picture click on this photo

(Photo: Guillaume Baviere)

Centre of France.

Fortunately I have some bread with me,” Germain says, while they sit by the fire, “we will share it.” “Then, I will treat us to chestnuts,” Marie answers, and with a small stick she brings out a few from under the glowing embers. Germain looks with big questioning eyes. “Yes, I collected them, while we were walking through the forest, and put them in the embers right away, once the fire was burning. That's how we shepherds do it.”

Germain tells Marie to go to sleep, he will care for the fire, and keep watch against the wild animals. Marie wraps herself in her cloak, but she cannot fall asleep. “Germain is really nice,” she thinks, “he is sturdy, too, and good-looking. It's a pity that I am from such a poor family. He will never be able to marry me.” Then her eyelids become heavy, and she dozes off.


The Devil's Pool (1846) is a charmingly written short novel of the French author George Sand about the peasant life in her own village.

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Little Fadette chuckles - a village in Berry, in the centre of France – around 1792, story 13.
= the Table of contents, story 12.