THE GOLDEN LION OF GRANPERE, BY ANTHONY TROLLOPE.
Up among the Vosges mountains in Lorraine, but just outside the old half-German province of Alsace, about thirty miles distant from the new and thoroughly French baths of Plombieres, there lies the village of Granpere. Whatever may be said or thought here in England of the late imperial rule in France, it must at any rate be admitted that good roads were made under the Empire. Alsace, which twenty years ago seems to have been somewhat behindhand in this respect, received her full share of Napoleon's attention, and Granpere is now placed on an excellent road which runs from the town of Remiremont on one line of railway, to Colmar on another. The inhabitants of the Alsatian Ballon hills and the open valleys among them seem to think that the civilisation of great cities has been brought near enough to them, as there is already a diligence running daily from Granpere to Remiremont;—and at Remiremont you are on the railway, and, of course, in the middle of everything.
And indeed an observant traveller will be led to think that a great deal of what may most truly be called civilisation has found its way in among the Ballons, whether it travelled thither by the new- fangled railways and imperial routes, or found its passage along the valley streams before imperial favours had been showered upon the district. We are told that when Pastor Oberlin was appointed to his cure as Protestant clergyman in the Ban de la Roche a little more than one hundred years ago,—that was, in 1767,—this region was densely dark and far behind in the world's running as regards all progress. The people were ignorant, poor, half-starved, almost savage, destitute of communication, and unable to produce from their own soil enough food for their own sustenance. Of manufacturing enterprise they understood nothing, and were only just far enough advanced in knowledge for the Protestants to hate the Catholics, and the Catholics to hate the Protestants. Then came that wonderful clergyman, Pastor Oberlin,—he was indeed a wonderful clergyman,— and made a great change. Since that there have been the two empires, and Alsace has looked up in the world. Whether the thanks of the people are more honestly due to Oberlin or to the late Emperor, the author of this little story will not pretend to say; but he will venture to express his opinion that at present the rural Alsatians are a happy, prosperous people, with the burden on their shoulders of but few paupers, and fewer gentlemen,—apparently a contented people, not ambitious, given but little to politics. Protestants and Catholics mingled without hatred or fanaticism, educated though not learned, industrious though not energetic, quiet and peaceful, making linen and cheese, growing potatoes, importing corn, coming into the world, marrying, begetting children, and dying in the wholesome homespun fashion which is so sweet to us in that mood of philosophy which teaches us to love the country and to despise the town. Whether it be better for a people to achieve an even level of prosperity, which is shared by all, but which makes none eminent, or to encounter those rough, ambitious, competitive strengths which produce both palaces and poor-houses, shall not be matter of argument here; but the teller of this story is disposed to think that the chance traveller, as long as he tarries at Granpere, will insensibly and perhaps unconsciously become an advocate of the former doctrine; he will be struck by the comfort which he sees around him, and for a while will dispense with wealth, luxury, scholarships, and fashion. Whether the inhabitants of these hills and valleys will advance to farther progress now that they are again to become German, is another question, which the writer will not attempt to answer here.
Granpere in itself is a very pleasing village. Though the amount of population and number of houses do not suffice to make it more than a village, it covers so large a space of ground as almost to give it a claim to town honours. It is perhaps a full mile in length; and though it has but one street, there are buildings standing here and there, back from the line, which make it seem to stretch beyond the narrow confines of a single thoroughfare. In most French villages some of the houses are high and spacious, but here they seem almost all to be so. And many of them have been constructed after that independent fashion which always gives to a house in a street a character and importance of its own. They do not stand in a simple line, each supported by the strength of its neighbour, but occupy their own ground, facing this way or that as each may please, presenting here a corner to the main street, and there an end. There are little gardens, and big stables, and commodious barns; and periodical paint with annual whitewash is not wanting. The unstinted slates shine copiously under the sun, and over almost every other door there is a large lettered board which indicates that the resident within is a dealer in the linen which is produced throughout the country. All these things together give to Granpere an air of prosperity and comfort which is not at all checked by the fact that there is in the place no mansion which we Englishmen would call the gentleman's house, nothing approaching to the ascendancy of a parish squire, no baron's castle, no manorial hall,—not even a chateau to overshadow the modest roofs of the dealers in the linen of the Vosges.
And the scenery round Granpere is very pleasant, though the neighbouring hills never rise to the magnificence of mountains or produce that grandeur which tourists desire when they travel in search of the beauties of Nature. It is a spot to love if you know it well, rather than to visit with hopes raised high, and to leave with vivid impressions. There is water in abundance; a pretty lake lying at the feet of sloping hills, rivulets running down from the high upper lands and turning many a modest wheel in their course, a waterfall or two here and there, and a so-called mountain summit within an easy distance, from whence the sun may be seen to rise among the Swiss mountains;—and distant perhaps three miles from the village the main river which runs down the valley makes for itself a wild ravine, just where the bridge on the new road to Munster crosses the water, and helps to excuse the people of Granpere for claiming for themselves a great object of natural attraction. The bridge and the river and the ravine are very pretty, and perhaps justify all that the villagers say of them when they sing to travellers the praises of their country.
Whether it be the sale of linen that has produced the large inn at Granpere, or the delicious air of the place, or the ravine and the bridge, matters little to our story; but the fact of the inn matters very much. There it is,—a roomy, commodious building, not easily intelligible to a stranger, with its widely distributed parts, standing like an inverted V, with its open side towards the main road. On the ground-floor on one side are the large stables and coach-house, with a billiard-room and cafe over them, and a long balcony which runs round the building; and on the other side there are kitchens and drinking-rooms, and over these the chamber for meals and the bedrooms. All large, airy, and clean, though, perhaps, not excellently well finished in their construction, and furnished with but little pretence to French luxury. And behind the inn there are gardens, by no means trim, and a dusty summer-house, which serves, however, for the smoking of a cigar; and there is generally space and plenty and goodwill. Either the linen, or the air, or the ravine, or, as is more probable, the three combined, have produced a business, so that the landlord of the Lion d'Or at Granpere is a thriving man.
The reader shall at once be introduced to the landlord, and informed at the same time that, in so far as he may be interested in this story, he will have to take up his abode at the Lion d'Or till it be concluded; not as a guest staying loosely at his inn, but as one who is concerned with all the innermost affairs of the household. He will not simply eat his plate of soup, and drink his glass of wine, and pass on, knowing and caring more for the servant than for the servant's master, but he must content himself to sit at the landlord's table, to converse very frequently with the landlord's wife, to become very intimate with the landlord's son—whether on loving or on unloving terms shall be left entirely to himself—and to throw himself, with the sympathy of old friendship, into all the troubles and all the joys of the landlord's niece. If the reader be one who cannot take such a journey, and pass a month or two without the society of persons whom he would define as ladies and gentlemen, he had better be warned at once, and move on, not setting foot within the Lion d'Or at Granpere.
Michel Voss, the landlord, in person was at this time a tall, stout, active, and very handsome man, about fifty years of age. As his son was already twenty-five—and was known to be so throughout the commune—people were sure that Michel Voss was fifty or thereabouts; but there was very little in his appearance to indicate so many years. He was fat and burly to be sure; but then he was not fat to lethargy, or burly with any sign of slowness. There was still the spring of youth in his footstep, and when there was some weight to be lifted, some heavy timber to be thrust here or there, some huge lumbering vehicle to be hoisted in or out, there was no arm about the place so strong as that of the master. His short, dark, curly hair—that was always kept clipped round his head—was beginning to show a tinge of gray, but the huge moustache on his upper lip was still of a thorough brown, as was also the small morsel of beard which he wore upon his chin. He had bright sharp brown eyes, a nose slightly beaked, and a large mouth. He was on the whole a man of good temper, just withal, and one who loved those who belonged to him; but he chose to be master in his own house, and was apt to think that his superior years enabled him to know what younger people wanted better than they would know themselves. He was loved in his house and respected in his village; but there was something in the beak of his nose and the brightness of his eye which was apt to make those around him afraid of him. And indeed Michel Voss could lose his temper and become an angry man.
Our landlord had been twice married. By his first wife he had now living a single son, George Voss, who at the time of our tale had already reached his twenty-fifth year. George, however, did not at this time live under his father's roof, having taken service for a time with the landlady of another inn at Colmar. George Voss was known to be a clever young man; many in those parts declared that he was much more so than his father; and when he became clerk at the Poste in Colmar, and after a year or two had taken into his hands almost the entire management of that house—so that people began to say that old-fashioned and wretched as it was, money might still be made there—people began to say also that Michel Voss had been wrong to allow his son to leave Granpere. But in truth there had been a few words between the father and the son; and the two were so like each other that the father found it difficult to rule, and the son found it difficult to be ruled.
George Voss was very like his father, with this difference, as he was often told by the old folk about Granpere, that he would never fill his father's shoes. He was a smaller man, less tall by a couple of inches, less broad in proportion across the shoulders, whose arm would never be so strong, whose leg would never grace a tight stocking with so full a development. But he had the same eye, bright and brown and very quick, the same mouth, the same aquiline nose, the same broad forehead and well-shaped chin, and the same look in his face which made men know as by instinct that he would sooner command than obey. So there had come to be a few words, and George Voss had gone away to the house of a cousin of his mother's, and had taken to commanding there.
Not that there had been any quarrel between the father and the son; nor indeed that George was aware that he had been in the least disobedient to his parent. There was no recognised ambition for rule in the breasts of either of them. It was simply this, that their tempers were alike; and when on an occasion Michel told his son that he would not allow a certain piece of folly which the son was, as he thought, likely to commit, George declared that he would soon set that matter right by leaving Granpere. Accordingly he did leave Granpere, and became the right hand, and indeed the head, and backbone, and best leg of his old cousin Madame Faragon of the Poste at Colmar. Now the matter on which these few words occurred was a question of love—whether George Voss should fall in love with and marry his step-mother's niece Marie Bromar. But before anything farther can be said of these few words, Madame Voss and her niece must be introduced to the reader.
Madame Voss was nearly twenty years younger than her husband, and had now been a wife some five or six years. She had been brought from Epinal, where she had lived with a married sister, a widow, much older than herself—in parting from whom on her marriage there had been much tribulation. 'Should anything happen to Marie,' she had said to Michel Voss, before she gave him her troth, 'you will let Minnie Bromar come to me?' Michel Voss, who was then hotly in love with his hoped-for bride—hotly in love in spite of his four- and-forty years—gave the required promise. The said 'something' which had been suspected had happened. Madame Bromar had died, and Minnie Bromar her daughter—or Marie as she was always afterwards called—had at once been taken into the house at Granpere. Michel never thought twice about it when he was reminded of his promise. 'If I hadn't promised at all, she should come the same,' he said. 'The house is big enough for a dozen more yet.' In saying this he perhaps alluded to a little baby that then lay in a cradle in his wife's room, by means of which at that time Madame Voss was able to make her big husband do pretty nearly anything that she pleased. So Marie Bromar, then just fifteen years of age, was brought over from Epinal to Granpere, and the house certainly was not felt to be too small because she was there. Marie soon learned the ways and wishes of her burly, soft-hearted uncle; would fill his pipe for him, and hand him his soup, and bring his slippers, and put her soft arm round his neck, and became a favourite. She was only a child when she came, and Michel thought it was very pleasant; but in five years' time she was a woman, and Michel was forced to reflect that it would not be well that there should be another marriage and another family in the house while he was so young himself,—there was at this time a third baby in the cradle,—and then Marie Bromar had not a franc of dot. Marie was the sweetest eldest daughter in the world, but he could not think it right that his son should marry a wife before he had done a stroke for himself in the world. Prudence made it absolutely necessary that he should say a word to his son.
Madame Voss was certainly nearly twenty years younger than her husband, and yet the pair did not look to be ill-sorted. Michel was so handsome, strong, and hale; and Madame Voss, though she was a comely woman,—though when she was brought home a bride to Granpere the neighbours had all declared that she was very handsome,—carried with her a look of more years than she really possessed. She had borne many of a woman's cares, and had known much of woman's sorrows before she had become wife to Michel Voss; and then when the babes came, and she had settled down as mistress of that large household, and taught herself to regard George Voss and Marie Bromar almost as her own children, all idea that she was much younger than her husband departed from her. She was a woman who desired to excel her husband in nothing,—if only she might be considered to be in some things his equal. There was no feeling in the village that Michel Voss had brought home a young wife and had made a fool of himself. He was a man entitled to have a wife much younger than himself. Madame Voss in those days always wore a white cap and a dark stuff gown, which was changed on Sundays for one of black silk, and brown mittens on her hands, and she went about the house in soft carpet shoes. She was a conscientious, useful, but not an enterprising woman; loving her husband much and fearing him somewhat; liking to have her own way in certain small matters, but willing to be led in other things so long as those were surrendered to her; careful with her children, the care of whom seemed to deprive her of the power of caring for the business of the inn; kind to her niece, good-humoured in her house, and satisfied with the world at large as long as she might always be allowed to entertain M. le Cure at dinner on Sundays. Michel Voss, Protestant though he was, had not the slightest objection to giving M. le Cure his Sunday dinner, on condition that M. le Cure on these occasions would confine his conversation to open subjects. M. le Cure was quite willing to eat his dinner and give no offence.
A word too must be said of Marie Bromar before we begin our story. Marie Bromar is the heroine of this little tale; and the reader must be made to have some idea of her as she would have appeared before him had he seen her standing near her uncle in the long room upstairs of the hotel at Granpere. Marie had been fifteen when she was brought from Epinal to Granpere, and had then been a child; but she had now reached her twentieth birthday, and was a woman. She was not above the middle height, and might seem to be less indeed in that house, because her aunt and her uncle were tall; but she was straight, well made, and very active. She was strong and liked to use her strength, and was very keen about all the work of the house. During the five years of her residence at Granpere she had thoroughly learned the mysteries of her uncle's trade. She knew good wine from bad by the perfume; she knew whether bread was the full weight by the touch; with a glance of her eye she could tell whether the cheese and butter were what they ought to be; in a matter of poultry no woman in all the commune could take her in; she was great in judging eggs; knew well the quality of linen; and was even able to calculate how long the hay should last, and what should be the consumption of corn in the stables. Michel Voss was well aware before Marie had been a year beneath his roof that she well earned the morsel she ate and the drop she drank; and when she had been there five years he was ready to swear that she was the cleverest girl in Lorraine or Alsace. And she was very pretty, with rich brown hair that would not allow itself to be brushed out of its crisp half-curls in front, and which she always wore cut short behind, curling round her straight, well-formed neck. Her eyes were gray, with a strong shade indeed of green, but were very bright and pleasant, full of intelligence, telling stories by their glances of her whole inward disposition, of her activity, quickness, and desire to have a hand in everything that was being done. Her father Jean Bromar had come from the same stock with Michel Voss, and she, too, had something of that aquiline nose which gave to the innkeeper and his son the look which made men dislike to contradict them. Her mouth was large, but her teeth were very white and perfect, and her smile was the sweetest thing that ever was seen. Marie Bromar was a pretty girl, and George Voss, had he lived so near to her and not have fallen in love with her, must have been cold indeed.
At the end of these five years Marie had become a woman, and was known by all around her to be a woman much stronger, both in person and in purpose, than her aunt; but she maintained, almost unconsciously, many of the ways in the house which she had assumed when she first entered it. Then she had always been on foot, to be everybody's messenger,—and so she was now. When her uncle and aunt were at their meals she was always up and about,—attending them, attending the public guests, attending the whole house. And it seemed as though she herself never sat down to eat or drink. Indeed, it was rare enough to find her seated at all. She would have a cup of coffee standing up at the little desk near the public window when she kept her books, or would take a morsel of meat as she helped to remove the dishes. She would stand sometimes for a minute leaning on the back of her uncle's chair as he sat at his supper, and would say, when he bade her to take her chair and eat with them, that she preferred picking and stealing. In all things she worshipped her uncle, observing his movements, caring for his wants, and carrying out his plans. She did not worship her aunt, but she so served Madame Voss that had she been withdrawn from the household Madame Voss would have found herself altogether unable to provide for its wants. Thus Marie Bromar had become the guardian angel of the Lion d'Or at Granpere.
There must be a word or two more said of the difference between George Voss and his father which had ended in sending George to Colmar; a word or two about that, and a word also of what occurred between George and Marie. Then we shall be able to commence our story without farther reference to things past. As Michel Voss was a just, affectionate, and intelligent man, he would not probably have objected to a marriage between the two young people, had the proposition for such a marriage been first submitted to him, with a proper amount of attention to his judgment and controlling power. But the idea was introduced to him in a manner which taught him to think that there was to be a clandestine love affair. To him George was still a boy, and Marie not much more than a child, and—without much thinking—he felt that the thing was improper.
'I won't have it, George,' he had said.
'Won't have what, father?'
'Never mind. You know. If you can't get over it in any other way, you had better go away. You must do something for yourself before you can think of marrying.'
'I am not thinking of marrying.'
'Then what were you thinking of when I saw you with Marie? I won't have it for her sake, and I won't have it for mine, and I won't have it for your own. You had better go away for a while.'
'I'll go away to-morrow if you wish it, father.' Michel had turned away, not saying another word; and on the following day George did go away, hardly waiting an hour to set in order his part of his father's business. For it must be known that George had not been an idler in his father's establishment. There was a trade of wood- cutting upon the mountain-side, with a saw-mill turned by water beneath, over which George had presided almost since he had left the school of the commune. When his father told him that he was bound to do something before he got married, he could not have intended to accuse him of having been hitherto idle. Of the wood-cutting and the saw-mill George knew as much as Marie did of the poultry and the linen. Michel was wrong, probably, in his attempt to separate them. The house was large enough, or if not, there was still room for another house to be built in Granpere. They would have done well as man and wife. But then the head of a household naturally objects to seeing the boys and girls belonging to him making love under his nose without any reference to his opinion. 'Things were not made so easy for me,' he says to himself, and feels it to be a sort of duty to take care that the course of love shall not run altogether smooth. George, no doubt, was too abrupt with his father; or perhaps it might be the case that he was not sorry to take an opportunity of leaving for a while Granpere and Marie Bromar. It might be well to see the world; and though Marie Bromar was bright and pretty, it might be that there were others abroad brighter and prettier.
His father had spoken to him on one fine September afternoon, and within an hour George was with the men who were stripping bark from the great pine logs up on the side of the mountain. With them, and with two or three others who were engaged at the saw-mills, he remained till the night was dark. Then he came down and told something of his intentions to his stepmother. He was going to Colmar on the morrow with a horse and small cart, and would take with him what clothes he had ready. He did not speak to Marie that night, but he said something to his father about the timber and the mill. Gaspar Muntz, the head woodsman, knew, he said, all about the business. Gaspar could carry on the work till it would suit Michel Voss himself to see how things were going on. Michel Voss was sore and angry, but he said nothing. He sent to his son a couple of hundred francs by his wife, but said no word of explanation even to her. On the following morning George was off without seeing his father.
But Marie was up to give him his breakfast. 'What is the meaning of this, George?' she said.
'Father says that I shall be better away from this,—so I'm going away.'
'And why will you be better away?' To this George made no answer. 'It will be terrible if you quarrel with your father. Nothing can be so bad as that.'
'We have not quarrelled. That is to say, I have not quarrelled with him. If he quarrels with me, I cannot help it.'
'It must be helped,' said Marie, as she placed before him a mess of eggs which she had cooked for him with her own hands. 'I would sooner die than see anything wrong between you two.' Then there was a pause. 'Is it about me, George?' she asked boldly.
'Father thinks that I love you: —so I do.'
Marie paused for a few minutes before she said anything farther. She was standing very near to George, who was eating his breakfast heartily in spite of the interesting nature of the conversation. As she filled his cup a second time, she spoke again. 'I will never do anything, George, if I can help it, to displease my uncle.'
'But why should it displease him? He wants to have his own way in everything.'
'Of course he does.'
'He has told me to go;—and I'll go. I've worked for him as no other man would work, and have never said a word about a share in the business;—and never would.'
'Is it not all for yourself, George?'
'And why shouldn't you and I be married if we like it?'
'I will never like it,' said she solemnly, 'if uncle dislikes it.'
'Very well,' said George. 'There is the horse ready, and now I'm off.'
So he went, starting just as the day was dawning, and no one saw him on that morning except Marie Bromar. As soon as he was gone she went up to her little room, and sat herself down on her bedside. She knew that she loved him, and had been told that she was beloved. She knew that she could not lose him without suffering terribly; but now she almost feared that it would be necessary that she should lose him. His manner had not been tender to her. He had indeed said that he loved her, but there had been nothing of the tenderness of love in his mode of saying so;—and then he had said no word of persistency in the teeth of his father's objection. She had declared—thoroughly purposing that her declaration should be true— that she would never become his wife in opposition to her uncle's wishes; but he, had he been in earnest, might have said something of his readiness to attempt at least to overcome his father's objection. But he had said not a word, and Marie, as she sat upon her bed, made up her mind that it must be all over. But she made up her mind also that she would entertain no feeling of anger against her uncle. She owed him everything, so she thought—making no account, as George had done, of labour given in return. She was only a girl, and what was her labour? For a while she resolved that she would give a spoken assurance to her uncle that he need fear nothing from her. It was natural enough to her that her uncle should desire a better marriage for his son. But after a while she reflected that any speech from her on such a subject would be difficult, and that it would be better that she should hold her tongue. So she held her tongue, and thought of George, and suffered;—but still was merry, at least in manner, when her uncle spoke to her, and priced the poultry, and counted the linen, and made out the visitors' bills, as though nothing evil had come upon her. She was a gallant girl, and Michel Voss, though he could not speak of it, understood her gallantry and made notes of it on the note-book of his heart.
In the mean time George Voss was thriving at Colmar,—as the Vosses did thrive wherever they settled themselves. But he sent no word to his father,—nor did his father send word to him,—though they were not more than ten leagues apart. Once Madame Voss went over to see him, and brought back word of his well-doing.
Exactly at eight o'clock every evening a loud bell was sounded in the hotel of the Lion d'Or at Granpere, and all within the house sat down together to supper. The supper was spread on a long table in the saloon up-stairs, and the room was lighted with camphine lamps,- -for as yet gas had not found its way to Granpere. At this meal assembled not only the guests in the house and the members of the family of the landlord,—but also many persons living in the village whom it suited to take, at a certain price per month, the chief meal of the day, at the house of the innkeeper, instead of eating in their own houses a more costly, a less dainty, and probably a lonely supper. Therefore when the bell was heard there came together some dozen residents of Granpere, mostly young men engaged in the linen trade, from their different lodgings, and each took his accustomed seat down the sides of the long board, at which, tied in a knot, was placed his own napkin. At the top of the table was the place of Madame Voss, which she never failed to fill exactly three minutes after the bell had been rung. At her right hand was the chair of the master of the house,—never occupied by any one else;—but it would often happen that some business would keep him away. Since George had left him he had taken the timber into his own hands, and was accustomed to think and sometimes to say that the necessity was cruel on him. Below his chair and on the other side of Madame Voss there would generally be two or three places kept for guests who might be specially looked upon as the intimate friends of the mistress of the house; and at the farther end of the table, close to the window, was the space allotted to travellers. Here the napkins were not tied in knots, but were always clean. And, though the little plates of radishes, cakes, and dried fruits were continued from one of the tables to the other, the long-necked thin bottles of common wine came to an end before they reached the strangers' portion of the board; for it had been found that strangers would take at that hour either tea or a better kind of wine than that which Michel Voss gave to his accustomed guests without any special charge. When, however, the stranger should please to take the common wine, he was by no means thereby prejudiced in the eyes of Madame Voss or her husband. Michel Voss liked a profit, but he liked the habits of his country almost as well.
One evening in September, about twelve months after the departure of George, Madame Voss took her seat at the table, and the young men of the place who had been waiting round the door of the hotel for a few minutes, followed her into the room. And there was M. Goudin, the Cure, with another young clergyman, his friend. On Sundays the Cure always dined at the hotel at half-past twelve o'clock, as the friend of the family; but for his supper he paid, as did the other guests. I rather fancy that on week days he had no particular dinner; and indeed there was no such formal meal given in the house of Michel Voss on week days. There was something put on the table about noon in the little room between the kitchen and the public window; but except on Sundays it could hardly be called a dinner. On Sundays a real dinner was served in the room up-stairs, with soup, and removes, and entrees and the roti, all in the right place,—which showed that they knew what a dinner was at the Lion d'Or;—but, throughout the week, supper was the meal of the day. After M. Goudin, on this occasion, there came two maiden ladies from Epinal who were lodging at Granpere for change of air. They seated themselves near to Madame Voss, but still leaving a place or two vacant. And presently at the bottom of the table there came an Englishman and his wife, who were travelling through the country; and so the table was made up. A lad of about fifteen, who was known in Granpere as the waiter at the Lion d'Or, looked after the two strangers and the young men, and Marie Bromar, who herself had arranged the board, stood at the top of the room, by a second table, and dispensed the soup. It was pleasant to watch her eyes, as she marked the moment when the dispensing should begin, and counted her guests, thoughtful as to the sufficiency of the dishes to come; and noticed that Edmond Greisse had sat down with such dirty hands that she must bid her uncle to warn the lad; and observed that the more elderly of the two ladies from Epinal had bread too hard to suit her,—which should be changed as soon as the soup had been dispensed. She looked round, and even while dispensing saw everything. It was suggested in the last chapter that another house might have been built in Granpere, and that George Voss might have gone there, taking Marie as his bride; but the Lion d'Or would sorely have missed those quick and careful eyes.
Then, when that dispensing of the soup was concluded, Michel entered the room bringing with him a young man. The young man had evidently been expected; for, when he took the place close at the left hand of Madame Voss, she simply bowed to him, saying some word of courtesy as Michel took his place on the other side. Then Marie dispensed two more portions of soup, and leaving one on the farther table for the boy to serve, though she could well have brought the two, waited herself upon her uncle. 'And is Urmand to have no soup?' said Michel Voss, as he took his niece lovingly by the hand.
'Peter is bringing it,' said Marie. And in a moment or two Peter the waiter did bring the young man his soup.
'And will not Mademoiselle Marie sit down with us?' said the young man.
'If you can make her, you have more influence than I,' said Michel. 'Marie never sits, and never eats, and never drinks.' She was standing now close behind her uncle with both her hands upon his head; and she would often stand so after the supper was commenced, only moving to attend upon him, or to supplement the services of Peter and the maid-servant when she perceived that they were becoming for a time inadequate to their duties. She answered her uncle now by gently pulling his ears, but she said nothing.
'Sit down with us, Marie, to oblige me,' said Madame Voss.
'I had rather not, aunt. It is foolish to sit at supper and not eat. I have taken my supper already.' Then she moved away, and hovered round the two strangers at the end of the room. After supper Michel Voss and the young man—Adrian Urmand by name—lit their cigars and seated themselves on a bench outside the front door. 'Have you never said a word to her?' said Michel.
'Well;—a word; yes.'
'But you have not asked her—; you know what I mean;—asked her whether she could love you.'
'Well,—yes. I have said as much as that, but I have never got an answer. And when I did ask her, she merely left me. She is not much given to talking.'
'She will not make the worse wife, my friend, because she is not much given to such talking as that. When she is out with me on a Sunday afternoon she has chat enough. By St. James, she'll talk for two hours without stopping when I'm so out of breath with the hill that I haven't a word.'
'I don't doubt she can talk.'
'That she can; and manage a house better than any girl I ever saw. You ask her aunt.'
'I know what her aunt thinks of her. Madame Voss says that neither you nor she can afford to part with her.'
Michel Voss was silent for a moment. It was dusk, and no one could see him as he brushed a tear from each eye with the back of his hand. 'I'll tell you what, Urmand,—it will break my heart to lose her. Do you see how she comes to me and comforts me? But if it broke my heart, and broke the house too, I would not keep her here. It isn't fit. If you like her, and she can like you, it will be a good match for her. You have my leave to ask her. She brought nothing here, but she has been a good girl, a very good girl, and she will not leave the house empty-handed.'
Adrian Urmand was a linen-buyer from Basle, and was known to have a good share in a good business. He was a handsome young man too, though rather small, and perhaps a little too apt to wear rings on his fingers and to show jewelry on his shirt-front and about his waistcoat. So at least said some of the young people of Granpere, where rings and gold studs are not so common as they are at Basle. But he was one who understood his business, and did not neglect it; he had money too; and was therefore such a young man that Michel Voss felt that he might give his niece to him without danger, if he and she could manage to like each other sufficiently. As to Urmand's liking, there was no doubt. Urmand was ready enough.
'I will see if she will speak to me just now,' said Urmand after a pause.
'Shall her aunt try it, or shall I do it?' said Michel.
But Adrian Urmand thought that part of the pleasure of love lay in the making of it himself. So he declined the innkeeper's offer, at any rate for the present occasion. 'Perhaps,' said he, 'Madame Voss will say a word for me after I have spoken for myself.'
'So let it be,' said the landlord. And then they finished their cigars in silence.
It was in vain that Adrian Urmand tried that night to obtain audience from Marie. Marie, as though she well knew what was wanted of her and was determined to thwart her lover, would not allow herself to be found alone for a moment. When Adrian presented himself at the window of her little bar, he found that Peter was with her, and she managed to keep Peter with her till Adrian was gone. And again, when he hoped to find her alone for a few moments after the work of the day was over in the small parlour where she was accustomed to sit for some half hour before she would go up to her room, he was again disappointed. She was already up-stairs with her aunt and the children, and all Michel Voss's good nature in keeping out of the way was of no avail.
But Urmand was determined not to be beaten. He intended to return to Basle on the next day but one, and desired to put this matter a little in forwardness before he took his departure. On the following morning he had various appointments to keep with countrymen and their wives, who sold linen to him, but he was quick over his business and managed to get back to the inn early in the afternoon. From six till eight he well knew that Marie would allow nothing to impede her in the grand work of preparing for supper; but at four o'clock she would certainly be sitting somewhere about the house with her needle in her hand. At four o'clock he found her, not with her needle in her hand, but, better still, perfectly idle. She was standing at an open window, looking out upon the garden as he came behind her, standing motionless with both hands on the sill of the window, thinking deeply of something that filled her mind. It might be that she was thinking of him.
'I have done with my customers now, and I shall be off to Basle to- morrow,' said he, as soon as she had looked round at the sound of his footsteps and perceived that he was close to her.
'I hope you have bought your goods well, M. Urmand.'
'Ah! for the matter of that the time for buying things well is clean gone. One used to be able to buy well; but there is not an old woman now in Alsace who doesn't know as well as I do, or better, what linen is worth in Berne and Paris. They expect to get nearly as much for it here at Granpere.'
'They work hard, M. Urmand, and things are dearer than they were. It is well that they should get a price for their labour.'
'A price, yes: —but how is a man to buy without a profit? They think that I come here for their sakes,—merely to bring the market to their doors.' Then he began to remember that he had no special object in discussing the circumstances of his trade with Marie Bromar, and that he had a special object in another direction. But how to turn the subject was now a difficulty.
'I am sure you do not buy without a profit,' said Marie Bromar, when she found that he was silent. 'And then the poor people, who have to pay so dear for everything!' She was making a violent attempt to keep him on the ground of his customers and his purchases.
'There was another thing that I wanted to say to you, Marie,' he began at last abruptly.
'Another thing,' said Marie, knowing that the hour had come.
'Yes;—another thing. I daresay you know what it is. I need not tell you now that I love you, need I, Marie? You know as well as I do what I think of you.'
'No, I don't,' said Marie, not intending to encourage him to tell her, but simply saying that which came easiest to her at the moment.
'I think this,—that if you will consent to be my wife, I shall be a very happy man. That is all. Everybody knows how pretty you are, and how good, and how clever; but I do not think that anybody loves you better than I do. Can you say that you will love me, Marie? Your uncle approves of it,—and your aunt.' He had now come quite close to her, and having placed his hand behind her back, was winding his arm round her waist.
'I will not have you do that, M. Urmand,' she said, escaping from his embrace.
'But that is no answer. Can you love me, Marie?'
'No,' she said, hardly whispering the word between her teeth.
'And is that to be all?'
'What more can I say?'
'But your uncle wishes it, and your aunt. Dear Marie, can you not try to love me?'
'I know they wish it. It is easy enough for a girl to see when such things are wished or when they are forbidden. Of course I know that uncle wishes it. And he is very good;—and so are you, I daresay. And I'm sure I ought to be very proud, because you are so much above me.'
'I am not a bit above you. If you knew what I think, you wouldn't say so.'
'Well, Marie. Think a moment, dearest, before you give me an answer that shall make me either happy or miserable.'
'I have thought. I would almost burn myself in the fire, if uncle wished it.'
'And he does wish this.'
'But I cannot do this even because he wishes it.'
'Why not, Marie?'
'I prefer being as I am. I do not wish to leave the hotel, or to be married at all.'
'Nay, Marie, you will certainly be married some day.'
'No; there is no such certainty. Some girls never get married. I am of use here, and I am happy here.'
'Ah! it is because you cannot love me.'
'I don't suppose I shall ever love any one, not in that way. I must go away now, M. Urmand, because I am wanted below.'
She did go, and Adrian Urmand spoke no farther word of love to her on that occasion.
'I will speak to her about it myself,' said Michel Voss, when he heard his young friend's story that evening, seated again upon the bench outside the door, and smoking another cigar.
'It will be of no use,' said Adrian.
'One never knows,' said Michel. 'Young women are queer cattle to take to market. One can never be quite certain which way they want to go. After you are off to-morrow, I will have a few words with her. She does not quite understand as yet that she must make her hay while the sun shines. Some of 'em are all in a hurry to get married, and some of 'em again are all for hanging back, when their friends wish it. It's natural, I believe, that they should be contrary. But Marie is as good as the best of them, and when I speak to her, she'll hear reason.'
Adrian Urmand had no alternative but to assent to the innkeeper's proposition. The idea of making love second-hand was not pleasant to him; but he could not hinder the uncle from speaking his mind to the niece. One little suggestion he did make before he took his departure. 'It can't be, I suppose, that there is any one else that she likes better?' To this Michel Voss made no answer in words, but shook his head in a fashion that made Adrian feel assured that there was no danger on that head.
But Michel Voss, though he had shaken his head in a manner so satisfactory, had feared that there was such danger. He had considered himself justified in shaking his head, but would not be so false as to give in words the assurance which Adrian had asked. That night he discussed the matter with his wife, declaring it as his purpose that Marie Bromar should marry Adrian Urmand. 'It is impossible that she should do better,' said Michel.
'It would be very well,' said Madame Voss.
'Very well! Why, he is worth thirty thousand francs, and is as steady at his business as his father was before him.'
'He is a dandy.'
'Psha! that is nothing!' said Michel.
'And he is too fond of money.'
'It is a fault on the right side,' said Michel. 'His wife and children will not come to want.'
Madame Voss paused a moment before she made her last and grand objection to the match. 'It is my belief,' said she, 'that Marie is always thinking of George.'
'Then she had better cease to think of him,' said Michel; 'for George is not thinking of her.' He said nothing farther, but resolved to speak his own mind freely to Marie Bromar.
The old-fashioned inn at Colmar, at which George Voss was acting as assistant and chief manager to his father's distant cousin, Madame Faragon, was a house very different in all its belongings from the Lion d'Or at Granpere. It was very much larger, and had much higher pretensions. It assumed to itself the character of a first-class hotel; and when Colmar was without a railway, and was a great posting-station on the high road from Strasbourg to Lyons, there was some real business at the Hotel de la Poste in that town. At present, though Colmar may probably have been benefited by the railway, the inn has faded, and is in its yellow leaf. Travellers who desire to see the statue which a grateful city has erected to the memory of its most illustrious citizen, General Rapp, are not sufficient in number to keep a first-class hotel in the glories of fresh paint and smart waiters; and when you have done with General Rapp, there is not much to interest you in Colmar. But there is the hotel; and poor fat, unwieldy Madame Faragon, though she grumbles much, and declares that there is not a sou to be made, still keeps it up, and bears with as much bravery as she can the buffets of a world which seems to her to be becoming less prosperous and less comfortable and more exacting every day. In her younger years, a posting-house in such a town was a posting-house; and when M. Faragon married her, the heiress of the then owner of the business, he was supposed to have done uncommonly well for himself. Madame Faragon is now a childless widow, and sometimes declares that she will shut the house up and have done with it. Why maintain a business without a profit, simply that there may be an Hotel de la Poste at Colmar? But there are old servants whom she has not the heart to send away; and she has at any rate a roof of her own over her head; and though she herself is unconscious that it is so, she has many ties to the old business; and now, since her young cousin George Voss has been with her, things go a little better. She is not robbed so much, and the people of the town, finding that they can get a fair bottle of wine and a good supper, come to the inn; and at length an omnibus has been established, and there is a little glimmer of returning prosperity.
It is a large old rambling house, built round an irregularly-shaped court, with another court behind it; and in both courts the stables and coach-houses seem to be so mixed with the kitchens and entrances, that one hardly knows what part of the building is equine and what part human. Judging from the smell which pervades the lower quarters, and, alas, also too frequently the upper rooms, one would be inclined to say that the horses had the best of it. The defect had been pointed out to Madame Faragon more than once; but that lady, though in most of the affairs of life her temper is gentle and kindly, cannot hear with equanimity an insinuation that any portion of her house is either dirty or unsweet. Complaints have reached her that the beds were—well, inhabited—but no servant now dares to hint at anything wrong in this particular. If this traveller or that says a word to her personally in complaint, she looks as sour as death, and declines to open her mouth in reply; but when that traveller's back is turned, the things that Madame Faragon can say about the upstart coxcombry of the wretch, and as to the want of all real comforts which she is sure prevails in the home quarters of that ill-starred complaining traveller, are proof to those who hear them that the old landlady has not as yet lost all her energy. It need not be doubted that she herself religiously believes that no foul perfume has ever pervaded the sanctity of her chambers, and that no living thing has ever been seen inside the sheets of her beds, except those guests whom she has allocated to the different rooms.
Matters had not gone very easily with George Voss in all the changes he had made during the last year. Some things he was obliged to do without consulting Madame Faragon at all. Then she would discover what was going on, and there would be a 'few words.' At other times he would consult her, and carry his purpose only after much perseverance. Twice or thrice he had told her that he must go away, and then with many groans she had acceded to his propositions. It had been necessary to expend two thousand francs in establishing the omnibus, and in that affair the appearance of things had been at one time quite hopeless. And then when George had declared that the altered habits of the people required that the hour of the morning table-d'hote should be changed from noon to one, she had sworn that she would not give way. She would never lend her assent to such vile idleness. It was already robbing the business portion of the day of an hour. She would wrap her colours round her and die upon the ground sooner than yield. 'Then they won't come,' said George, 'and it's no use you having the table then. They will all go to the Hotel de l'Imperatrice.' This was a new house, the very mention of which was a dagger-thrust into the bosom of Madame Faragon. 'Then they will be poisoned,' she said. 'And let them! It is what they are fit for.' But the change was made, and for the first three days she would not come out of her room. When the bell was rung at the obnoxious hour, she stopped her ears with her two hands.
But though there had been these contests, Madame Faragon had made more than one effort to induce George Voss to become her partner and successor in the house. If he would only bring in a small sum of money—a sum which must be easily within his father's reach—he should have half the business now, and all of it when Madame Faragon had gone to her rest. Or if he would prefer to give Madame Faragon a pension—a moderate pension—she would give up the house at once. At these tender moments she used to say that he probably would not begrudge her a room in which to die. But George Voss would always say that he had no money, that he could not ask his father for money, and that he had not made up his mind to settle at Colmar. Madame Faragon, who was naturally much interested in the matter, and was moreover not without curiosity, could never quite learn how matters stood at Granpere. A word or two she had heard in a circuitous way of Marie Bromar, but from George himself she could never learn anything of his affairs at home. She had asked him once or twice whether it would not be well that he should marry, but he had always replied that he did not think of such a thing—at any rate as yet. He was a steady young man, given more to work than to play, and apparently not inclined to amuse himself with the girls of the neighbourhood.
One day Edmond Greisse was over at Colmar—Edmond Greisse, the lad whose untidy appearance at the supper-table at the Lion d'Or had called down the rebuke of Marie Bromar. He had been sent over on some business by his employer, and had come to get his supper and bed at Madame Faragon's hotel. He was a modest, unassuming lad, and had been hardly more than a boy when George Voss had left Granpere. From time to time George had seen some friend from the village, and had thus heard tidings from home. Once, as has been said, Madame Voss had made a pilgrimage to Madame Faragon's establishment to visit him; but letters between the houses had not been frequent. Though postage in France—or shall we say Germany?—is now almost as low as in England, these people of Alsace have not yet fallen into the way of writing to each other when it occurs to any of them that a word may be said. Young Greisse had seen the landlady, who now never went upstairs among her guests, and had had his chamber allotted to him, and was seated at the supper-table, before he met George Voss. It was from Madame Faragon that George heard of his arrival.
'There is a neighbour of yours from Granpere in the house,' said she.
'From Granpere? And who is he?'
'I forget the lad's name; but he says that your father is well, and Madame Voss. He goes back early to-morrow with the roulage and some goods that his people have bought. I think he is at supper now.'
The place of honour at the top of the table at the Colmar inn was not in these days assumed by Madame Faragon. She had, alas, become too stout to do so with either grace or comfort, and always took her meals, as she always lived, in the little room downstairs, from which she could see, through the apertures of two doors, all who came in and all who went out by the chief entrance of the hotel. Nor had George usurped the place. It had now happened at Colmar, as it has come to pass at most hotels, that the public table is no longer the table-d'hote. The end chair was occupied by a stout, dark man, with a bald head and black beard, who was proudly filling a place different from that of his neighbours, and who would probably have gone over to the Hotel de l'Imperatrice had anybody disturbed him. On the present occasion George seated himself next to the lad, and they were soon discussing all the news from Granpere.
'And how is Marie Bromar?' George asked at last.
'You have heard about her, of course,' said Edmond Greisse.
'She is going to be married.'
'Minnie Bromar to be married? And to whom?'
Edmond at once understood that his news was regarded as being important, and made the most of it.
'O dear, yes. It was settled last week when he was there.'
'But who is he?'
'Adrian Urmand, the linen-buyer from Basle.'
'Marie to be married to Adrian Urmand?'
Urmand's journeys to Granpere had been commenced before George Voss had left the place, and therefore the two young men had known each other.
'They say he's very rich,' said Edmond.
'I thought he cared for nobody but himself. And are you sure? Who told you?'
'I am quite sure; but I do not know who told me. They are all talking about it.'
'Did my father ever tell you?'
'No, he never told me.'
'Or Marie herself?'
'No, she did not tell me. Girls never tell those sort of things of themselves.'
'Nor Madame Voss?' asked George.
'She never talks much about anything. But you may be sure it's true. I'll tell you who told me first, and he is sure to know, because he lives in the house. It was Peter Veque.'
'Peter Veque, indeed! And who do you think would tell him?'
'But isn't it quite likely? She has grown to be such a beauty! Everybody gives it to her that she is the prettiest girl round Granpere. And why shouldn't he marry her? If I had a lot of money, I'd only look to get the prettiest girl I could find anywhere.'
After this, George said nothing farther to the young man as to the marriage. If it was talked about as Edmond said, it was probably true. And why should it not be true? Even though it were true, no one would have cared to tell him. She might have been married twice over, and no one in Granpere would have sent him word. So he declared to himself. And yet Marie Bromar had once sworn to him that she loved him, and would be his for ever and ever; and, though he had left her in dudgeon, with black looks, without a kind word of farewell, yet he had believed her. Through all his sojourn at Colmar he had told himself that she would be true to him. He believed it, though he was hardly sure of himself—had hardly resolved that he would ever go back to Granpere to seek her. His father had turned him out of the house, and Marie had told him as he went that she would never marry him if her uncle disapproved it. Slight as her word had been on that morning of his departure, it had rankled in his bosom, and made him angry with her through a whole twelvemonth. And yet he had believed that she would be true to him!
He went out in the evening when it was dusk and walked round and round the public garden of Colmar, thinking of the news which he had heard—the public garden, in which stands the statue of General Rapp. It was a terrible blow to him. Though he had remained a whole year in Colmar without seeing Marie, or hearing of her, without hardly ever having had her name upon his lips, without even having once assured himself during the whole time that the happiness of his life would depend on the girl's constancy to him,—now that he heard that she was to be married to another man, he was torn to pieces by anger and regret. He had sworn to love her, and had never even spoken a word of tenderness to another girl. She had given him her plighted troth, and now she was prepared to break it with the first man who asked her! As he thought of this, his brow became black with anger. But his regrets were as violent. What a fool he had been to leave her there, open to persuasion from any man who came in the way, open to persuasion from his father, who would, of course, be his enemy. How, indeed, could he expect that she should be true to him? The year had been long enough to him, but it must have been doubly long to her. He had expected that his father would send for him, would write to him, would at least transmit to him some word that would make him know that his presence was again desired at Granpere. But his father had been as proud as he was, and had not sent any such message. Or rather, perhaps, the father being older and less impatient, had thought that a temporary absence from Granpere might be good for his son.
It was late at night when George Voss went to bed, but he was up in the morning early to see Edmond Greisse before the roulage should start for Munster on its road to Granpere. Early times in that part of the world are very early, and the roulage was ready in the back court of the inn at half-past four in the morning.
'What? you up at this hour?' said Edmond.
'Why not? It is not every day we have a friend here from Granpere, so I thought I would see you off.'
'That is kind of you.'
'Give my love to them at the old house, Edmond.'
'Of course I will.'
'To father, and Madame Voss, and the children, and to Marie.'
'Tell Marie that you have told me of her marriage.'
'I don't know whether she'll like to talk about that to me.'
'Never mind; you tell her. She won't bite you. Tell her also that I shall be over at Granpere soon to see her and the rest of them. I'll be over—as soon as ever I can get away.'
'Shall I tell your father that?'
'No. Tell Marie, and let her tell my father.'
'And when will you come? We shall all be so glad to see you.'
'Never you mind that. You just give my message. Come in for a moment to the kitchen. There's a cup of coffee for you and a slice of ham. We are not going to let an old friend like you go away without breaking his fast.'
As Greisse had already paid his modest bill, amounting altogether to little more than three francs, this was kind of the young landlord, and while he was eating his bread and ham he promised faithfully that he would give the message just as George had given it to him.
It was on the third day after the departure of Edmond Greisse that George told Madame Faragon that he was going home.
'Going where, George?' said Madame Faragon, leaning forward on the table before her, and looking like a picture of despair.
'To Granpere, Madame Faragon.'
'To Granpere! and why? and when? and how? O dear! Why did you not tell me before, child?'
'I told you as soon as I knew.'
'But you are not going yet?'
'O dear! So soon as that! Lord bless me! We can't do anything before Monday. And when will you be back?'
'I cannot say with certainty. I shall not be long, I daresay.'
'And have they sent for you?'
'No, they have not sent for me, but I want to see them once again. And I must make up my mind what to do for the future.'
'Don't leave me, George; pray do not leave me!' exclaimed Madame Faragon. 'You shall have the business now if you choose to take it- -only pray don't leave me!'
George explained that at any rate he would not desert her now at once; and on the Monday named he started for Granpere. He had not been very quick in his action, for a week had passed since he had given Edmond Greisse his breakfast in the hotel kitchen.
Adrian Urmand had been three days gone from Granpere before Michel Voss found a fitting opportunity for talking to his niece. It was not a matter, as he thought, in which there was need for any great hurry, but there was need for much consideration. Once again he spoke on the subject to his wife.
'If she's thinking about George, she has kept it very much to herself,' he remarked.
'Girls do keep it to themselves,' said Madame Voss.
'I'm not so sure of that. They generally show it somehow. Marie never looks lovelorn. I don't believe a bit of it; and as for him, all the time he has been away he has never so much as sent a word of a message to one of us.'
'He sent his love to you, when I saw him, quite dutifully,' said Madame Voss.
'Why don't he come and see us if he cares for us? It isn't of him that Marie is thinking.'
'It isn't of anybody else then,' said Madame Voss. 'I never see her speak a word to any of the young men, nor one of them ever speaking a word to her.'
Pondering over all this, Michel Voss resolved that he would have it all out with his niece on the following Sunday.
On the Sunday he engaged Marie to start with him after dinner to the place on the hillside where they were cutting wood. It was a beautiful autumn afternoon, in that pleasantest of all months in the year, when the sun is not too hot, and the air is fresh and balmy, and one is still able to linger abroad, loitering either in or out of the shade, when the midges cease to bite, and the sun no longer scorches and glares; but the sweet vestiges of summer remain, and everything without doors is pleasant and friendly, and there is the gentle unrecognised regret for the departing year, the unconscious feeling that its glory is going from us, to add the inner charm of a soft melancholy to the outer luxury of the atmosphere. I doubt whether Michel Voss had ever realised the fact that September is the kindliest of all the months, but he felt it, and enjoyed the leisure of his Sunday afternoon when he could get his niece to take a stretch with him on the mountain-side. On these occasions Madame Voss was left at home with M. le Cure, who liked to linger over his little cup of coffee. Madame Voss, indeed, seldom cared to walk very far from the door of her own house; and on Sundays to go to the church and back again was certainly sufficient exercise.
Michel Voss said no word about Adrian Urmand as they were ascending the hill. He was too wise for that. He could not have given effect to his experience with sufficient eloquence had he attempted the task while the burden of the rising ground was upon his lungs and chest. They turned into a saw-mill as they went up, and counted the scantlings of timber that had been cut; and Michel looked at the cradle to see that it worked well, and to the wheels to see that they were in good order, and observed that the channel for the water required repairs, and said a word as to the injury that had come to him because George had left him. 'Perhaps he may come back soon,' said Marie. To this he made no answer, but continued his path up the mountain-side. 'There will be plenty of feed for the cows this autumn,' said Marie Bromar. 'That is a great comfort.'
'Plenty,' said Michel; 'plenty.' But Marie knew from the tone of his voice that he was not thinking about the grass, and so she held her peace. But the want or plenty of the pasture was generally a subject of the greatest interest to the people of Granpere at that special time of the year, and one on which Michel Voss was ever ready to speak. Marie therefore knew that there was something on her uncle's mind. Nevertheless he inspected the timber that was cut, and made some remarks about the work of the men. They were not so careful in barking the logs as they used to be, and upon the whole he thought that the wood itself was of a worse quality. What is there that we do not find to be deteriorating around us when we consider the things in detail, though we are willing enough to admit a general improvement? 'Yes,' said he, in answer to some remarks from Marie, 'we must take it, no doubt, as God gives it to us, but we need not spoil it in the handling. Sit down, my dear; I want to speak to you for a few minutes.' Then they sat down together on a large prostrate pine, which was being prepared to be sent down to the saw-mill. 'My dear,' said he, 'I want to speak to you about Adrian Urmand.' She blushed and trembled as she placed herself beside him; but he hardly noticed it. He was not quite at his ease himself, and was a little afraid of the task he had undertaken. 'Adrian tells me that he asked you to take him as your lover, and that you refused.'
'Yes, Uncle Michel.'
'But why, my dear? How are you to do better? Perhaps I, or your aunt, should have spoken to you first, and told you that we thought well of the match.'
'It wasn't that, uncle. I knew you thought well of it; or, at least, I believed that you did.'
'And what is your objection, Marie?'
'I don't object to M. Urmand, uncle;—at least, not particularly.'
'But he says you do object. You would not accept him when he offered himself.'
'No; I did not accept him.'
'But you will, my dear,—if he comes again?'
'And why not? Is he not a good young man?'
'O, yes,—that is, I daresay.'
'And he has a good business. I do not know what more you could expect.'
'I expect nothing, uncle,—except not to go away from you.'
'Ah,—but you must go away from me. I should be very wrong, and so would your aunt, to let you remain here till you lose your good looks, and become an old woman on our hands. You are a pretty girl, Marie, and fit to be any man's wife, and you ought to take a husband. I am quite in earnest now, my dear; and I speak altogether for your own welfare.'
'I know you are in earnest, and I know that you speak for my welfare.'
'Well;—well;—what then? Of course, it is only reasonable that you should be married some day. Here is a young man in a better way of business than any man, old or young, that comes into Granpere. He has a house in Basle, and money to put in it whatever you want. And for the matter of that, Marie, my niece shall not go away from me empty-handed.'
She drew herself closer to him and took hold of his arm and pressed it, and looked up into his face.
'I brought nothing with me,' she said, 'and I want to take nothing away.'
'Is that it?' he said, speaking rapidly. 'Let me tell you then, my girl, that you shall have nothing but your earnings,—your fair earnings. Don't you take trouble about that. Urmand and I will settle that between us, and I will go bail there shall be no unpleasant words. As I said before, my girl sha'n't leave my house empty-handed; but, Lord bless you, he would only be too happy to take you in your petticoat, just as you are. I never saw a fellow more in love with a girl. Come, Marie, you need not mind saying the word to me, though you could not bring yourself to say it to him.'
'I can't say that word, uncle, either to you or to him.'
'And why the devil not?' said Michel Voss, who was beginning to be tired of being eloquent.
'I would rather stay at home with you and my aunt.'
'Some girls stay at home always. All girls do not get married. I don't want to be taken to Basle.'
'This is all nonsense,' said Michel, getting up. 'If you're a good girl, you will do as you are told.'
'It would not be good to be married to a man if I do not love him.'
'But why shouldn't you love him? He's just the man that all the girls always love. Why don't you love him?'
As Michel Voss asked this last question, there was a tone of anger in his voice. He had allowed his niece considerable liberty, and now she was unreasonable. Marie, who, in spite of her devotion to her uncle, was beginning to think that she was ill-used by this tone, made no reply. 'I hope you haven't been falling in love with any one else,' continued Michel.
'No,' said Marie, in a low whisper.
'I do hope you're not still thinking of George, who has left us without casting a thought upon you. I do hope that you are not such a fool as that.' Marie sat perfectly silent, not moving; but there was a frown on her brow and a look of sorrow mixed with anger on her face. But Michel Voss did not see her face. He looked straight before him as he spoke, and was flinging chips of wood to a distance in his energy. 'If it's that, Marie, I tell you you had better get quit of it at once. It can come to no good. Here is an excellent husband for you. Be a good girl, and say that you will accept him.'
'I should not be a good girl to accept a man whom I do not love.'
'Is it any thought about George that makes you say so, child?' Michel paused a moment for an answer. 'Tell me,' he continued, with almost angry energy, 'is it because of George that you refuse yourself to this young man?'
Marie paused again for a moment, and then she replied, 'No, it is not.'
'It is not?'
'Then why will you not marry Adrian Urmand?'
'Because I do not care for him. Why won't you let me remain with you, uncle?'
She was very close to him now, and leaning against him; and her throat was half choked with sobs, and her eyes were full of tears. Michel Voss was a soft-hearted man, and inclined to be very soft of heart where Marie Bromar was concerned. On the other hand he was thoroughly convinced that it would be for his niece's benefit that she should marry this young trader; and he thought also that it was his duty as her uncle and guardian to be round with her, and make her understand, that as her friends wished it, and as the young trader himself wished it, it was her duty to do as she was desired. Another uncle and guardian in his place would hardly have consulted the girl at all. Between his desire to have his own way and reduce her to obedience, and the temptation to put his arm round her waist and kiss away her tears, he was uneasy and vacillating. She gently put her hand within his arm, and pressed it very close.
'Won't you let me remain with you, uncle? I love you and Aunt Josey' (Madame Voss was named Josephine, and was generally called Aunt Josey) 'and the children. I could not go away from the children. And I like the house. I am sure I am of use in the house.'
'Of course you are of use in the house. It is not that.'
'Why, then, should you want to send me away?'
'What nonsense you talk, Marie! Don't you know that a young woman like you ought to be married some day—that is if she can get a fitting man to take her? What would the neighbours say of me if we kept you at home to drudge for us, instead of settling you out in the world properly? You forget, Marie, that I have a duty to perform, and you should not make it so difficult.'
'But if I don't want to be settled?' said Marie. 'Who cares for the neighbours? If you and I understand each other, is not that enough?'
'I care for the neighbours,' said Michel Voss with energy.
'And must I marry a man I don't care a bit for, because of the neighbours, Uncle Michel?' asked Marie, with something approaching to indignation in her voice.
Michel Voss perceived that it was of no use for him to carry on the argument. He entertained a half-formed idea that he did not quite understand the objections so strongly urged by his niece; that there was something on her mind that she would not tell him, and that there might be cruelty in urging the matter upon her; but, in opposition to this, there was his assured conviction that it was his duty to provide well and comfortably for his niece, and that it was her duty to obey him in acceding to such provision as he might make. And then this marriage was undoubtedly a good marriage—a match that would make all the world declare how well Michel Voss had done for the girl whom he had taken under his protection. It was a marriage that he could not bear to see go out of the family. It was not probable that the young linen-merchant, who was so well to do in the world, and who, no doubt, might have his choice in larger places than Granpere—it was not probable, Michel thought, that he would put up with many refusals. The girl would lose her chance, unless he, by his firmness, could drive this folly out of her. And yet how could he be firm, when he was tempted to throw his great arms about her, and swear that she should eat of his bread and drink of his cup, and be unto him as a daughter, till the last day of their joint existence. When she crept so close to him and pressed his arm, he was almost overcome by the sweetness of her love and by the tenderness of his own heart.
'It seems to me that you don't understand,' he said at last. 'I didn't think that such a girl as you would be so silly.'
To this she made no reply; and then they began to walk down the hill together.
They had walked half way home, he stepping a little in advance,— because he was still angry with her, or angry rather with himself in that he could not bring himself to scold her properly,—and she following close behind his shoulder, when he stopped suddenly and asked her a question which came from the direction his thoughts were taking at the moment. 'You are sure,' he said, 'that you are not doing this because you expect George to come back to you?'
'Quite sure,' she said, bearing forward a moment, and answering him in a whisper when she spoke.
'By my word, then, I can't understand it. I can't indeed. Has Urmand done anything to offend you?'
'Nor said anything?'
'Not a word; uncle. I am not offended. Of course I am much obliged to him. Only I don't love him.'
'By my faith I don't understand it. I don't indeed. It is sheer nonsense, and you must get over it. I shouldn't be doing my duty if I didn't tell you that you must get over it. He will be here again in another ten days, and you must have thought better of it by that time. You must indeed, Marie.'
Then they walked down the hill in silence together, each thinking intently on the purpose of the other, but each altogether misunderstanding the other. Michel Voss was assured—as she had twice implied as much—that she was altogether indifferent to his son George. What he might have said or done had she declared her affection for her absent lover, he did not himself know. He had not questioned himself on that point. Though his wife had told him that Marie was ever thinking of George, he had not believed that it was so. He had no reason for disliking a marriage between his son and his wife's niece. When he had first thought that they were going to be lovers, under his nose, without his permission,—going to commence a new kind of life between themselves without so much as a word spoken to him or by him,—he had found himself compelled to interfere, compelled as a father and an uncle. That kind of thing could never be allowed to take place in a well-ordered house without the expressed sanction of the head of the household. He had interfered,—rather roughly; and his son had taken him at his word. He was sore now at his son's coldness to him, and was disposed to believe that his son cared not at all for any one at Granpere. His niece was almost as dear to him as his son, and much more dutiful. Therefore he would do the best he could for his niece. Marie's declaration that George was nothing to her,—that she did not think of him,—was in accordance with his own ideas. His wife had been wrong. His wife was usually wrong when any headwork was required. There could be no good reason why Marie Bromar should not marry Adrian Urmand.
But Marie, as she knew very well, had never declared that George Voss was nothing to her,—that he was forgotten, or that her heart was free. He had gone from her and had forgotten her. She was quite sure of that. And should she ever hear that he was married to some one else,—as it was probable that she would hear some day,— then she would be free again. Then she might take this man or that, if her friends wished it—and if she could bring herself to endure the proposed marriage. But at present her troth was plighted to George Voss; and where her troth was given, there was her heart also. She could understand that such a circumstance, affecting one of so little importance as herself, should be nothing to a man like her uncle; but it was everything to her. George had forgotten her, and she had wept sorely over his want of constancy. But though telling herself that this certainly was so, she had declared to herself that she would never be untrue till her want of truth had been put beyond the reach of doubt. Who does not know how hope remains, when reason has declared that there is no longer ground for hoping?
Such had been the state of her mind hitherto; but what would be the good of entertaining hope, even if there were ground for hoping, when, as was so evident, her uncle would never permit George and her to be man and wife? And did she not owe everything to her uncle? And was it not the duty of a girl to obey her guardian? Would not all the world be against her if she refused this man? Her mind was tormented by a thousand doubts, when her uncle said another word to her, just as they were entering the village.
'You will try and think better of it;—will you not, my dear?' She was silent. 'Come, Marie, you can say that you will try. Will you not try?'
'Yes, uncle,—I will try.'
Michel Voss went home in a good humour, for he felt that he had triumphed; and poor Marie returned broken-hearted, for she was aware that she had half-yielded. She knew that her uncle was triumphant.
When Edmond Greisse was back at Granpere he well remembered his message, but he had some doubt as to the expediency of delivering it. He had to reflect in the first place whether he was quite sure that matters were arranged between Marie and Adrian Urmand. The story had been told to him as being certainly true by Peter the waiter. And he had discussed the matter with other young men, his associates in the place, among all of whom it was believed that Urmand was certainly about to carry away the young woman with whom they were all more or less in love. But when, on his return to Granpere, he had asked a few more questions, and had found that even Peter was now in doubt on a point as to which he had before been so sure, he began to think that there would be some difficulty in giving his message. He was not without some little fear of Marie, and hesitated to tell her that he had spread the report about her marriage. So he contented himself with simply announcing to her that George Voss intended to visit his old home.
'Does my uncle know?' Marie asked.
'No;—you are to tell him,' said Greisse.
'I am to tell him! Why should I tell him? You can tell him.'
'But George said that I was to let you know, and that you would tell your uncle.' This was quite unintelligible to Marie; but it was clear to her that she could make no such announcement, after the conversation which she had had with her uncle. It was quite out of the question that she should be the first to announce George's return, when she had been twice warned on that Sunday afternoon not to think of him. 'You had better let my uncle know yourself,' she said, as she walked away. But young Greisse, knowing that he was already in trouble, and feeling that he might very probably make it worse, held his peace. When therefore one morning George Voss showed himself at the door of the inn, neither his father nor Madame Voss expected him.
But his father was kind to him, and his mother-in-law hovered round him with demonstrations of love and gratitude, as though much were due to him for coming back at all. 'But you expected me,' said George.
'No, indeed,' said his father. 'We did not expect you now any more than on any other day since you left us.'
'I sent word by Edmond Greisse,' said George. Edmond was interrogated, and declared that he had forgotten to give the message. George was too clever to pursue the matter any farther, and when he first met Marie Bromar, there was not a word said between them beyond what might have been said between any young persons so related, after an absence of twelve months. George Voss was very careful to make no demonstration of affection for a girl who had forgotten him, and who was now, as he believed, betrothed to another man; and Marie was determined that certainly no sign of the old love should first be shown by her. He had come back,—perhaps just in time. He had returned just at the moment in which something must be decided. She had felt how much there was in the little word which she had spoken to her uncle. When a girl says that she will try to reconcile herself to a man's overtures, she has almost yielded. The word had escaped her without any such meaning on her part,—had been spoken because she had feared to continue to contradict her uncle in the full completeness of a positive refusal. She had regretted it as soon as it had been spoken, but she could not recall it. She had seen in her uncle's eye and had heard in the tone of his voice for how much that word had been taken;—but it had gone forth from her mouth, and she could not now rob it of its meaning. Adrian Urmand was to be back at Granpere in a few days—in ten days Michel Voss had said; and there were those ten days for her in which to resolve what she would do. Now, as though sent from heaven, George had returned, in this very interval of time. Might it not be that he would help her out of her difficulty? If he would only tell her to remain single for his sake, she would certainly turn her back upon her Swiss lover, let her uncle say what he might. She would make no engagement with George unless with her uncle's sanction; but a word, a look of love, would fortify her against that other marriage.
George, she thought, had come back a man more to be worshipped than ever, as far as appearance went. What woman could doubt for a moment between two such men? Adrian Urmand was no doubt a pretty man, with black hair, of which he was very careful, with white hands, with bright small dark eyes which were very close together, with a thin regular nose, a small mouth, and a black moustache, which he was always pointing with his fingers. It was impossible to deny that he was good-looking after a fashion; but Marie despised him in her heart. She was almost bigger than he was, certainly stronger, and had no aptitude for the city niceness and POINT-DEVICE fastidiousness of such a lover. George Voss had come back, not taller than when he had left them, but broader in the shoulders, and more of a man. And then he had in his eye, and in his beaked nose, and his large mouth, and well-developed chin, that look of command, which was the peculiar character of his father's face, and which women, who judge of men by their feelings rather than their thoughts, always love to see. Marie, if she would consent to marry Adrian Urmand, might probably have her own way in the house in everything; whereas it was certain enough that George Voss, wherever he might be, would desire to have his way. But yet there needed not a moment, in Marie's estimation, to choose between the two. George Voss was a real man; whereas Adrian Urmand, tried by such a comparison, was in her estimation simply a rich trader in want of a wife.
In a day or two the fatted calf was killed, and all went happily between George and his father. They walked together up into the mountains, and looked after the wood-cutting, and discussed the prospects of the inn at Colmar. Michel was disposed to think that George had better remain at Colmar, and accept Madame Faragon's offer. 'If you think that the house is worth anything, I will give you a few thousand francs to set it in order; and then you had better agree to allow her so much a year for her life.' He probably felt himself to be nearly as young a man as his son; and then remember too that he had other sons coming up, who would be able to carry on the house at Granpere when he should be past his work. Michel was a loving, generous-hearted man, and all feeling of anger with his son was over before they had been together two days. 'You can't do better, George,' he said. 'You need not always stay away from us for twelve months, and I might take a turn over the mountain, and get a lesson as to how you do things at Colmar. If ten thousand francs will help you, you shall have them. Will that make things go straight with you?' George Voss thought the sum named would make things go very straight; but as the reader knows, he had another matter near to his heart. He thanked his father; but not in the joyous thoroughly contented tone that Michel had expected. 'Is there anything wrong about it?' Michel said in that sharp tone which he used when something had suddenly displeased him.
'There is nothing wrong; nothing wrong at all,' said George slowly. 'The money is much more than I could have expected. Indeed I did not expect any.'
'What is it then?'
'I was thinking of something else. Tell me, father; is it true that Marie is going to be married to Adrian Urmand?'
'What makes you ask?'
'I heard a report of it,' said George. 'Is it true?'
The father reflected a moment what answer he should give. It did not seem to him that George spoke of such a marriage as though the rumour of it had made him unhappy. The question had been asked almost with indifference. And then the young man's manner to Marie, and Marie's manner to him, during the last two days had made him certain that he had been right in supposing that they had both forgotten the little tenderness of a year ago. And Michel had thoroughly made up his mind that it would be well that Marie should marry Adrian. He believed that he had already vanquished Marie's scruples. She had promised 'to try and think better of it,' before George's return; and therefore was he not justified in regarding the matter as almost settled? 'I think that they will be married,' said he to his son.
'Then there is something in it?'
'O, yes; there is a great deal in it. Urmand is very eager for it, and has asked me and her aunt, and we have consented.'
'But has he asked her?'
'Yes; he has done that too,' said Michel.
'And what answer did he get?'
'Well;—I don't know that it would be fair to tell that. Marie is not a girl likely to jump into a man's arms at the first word. But I think there is no doubt that they will be betrothed before Sunday week. He is to be here again on Wednesday.'
'She likes him, then?'
'O, yes; of course she likes him.' Michel Voss had not intended to say a word that was false. He was anxious to do the best in his power for both his son and his niece. He thoroughly understood that it was his duty as a father and a guardian to start them well in the world, to do all that he could for their prosperity, to feed their wants with his money, as a pelican feeds her young with blood from her bosom. Had he known the hearts of each of them, could he have understood Marie's constancy, or the obstinate silent strength of his son's disposition, he would have let Adrian Urmand, with his business and his house at Basle, seek a wife in any other quarter where he listed, and would have joined together the hands of these two whom he loved, with a paternal blessing. But he did not understand. He thought that he saw everything when he saw nothing;- -and now he was deceiving his son; for it was untrue that Marie had any such 'liking' for Adrian Urmand as that of which George had spoken.
'It is as good as settled, then?' said George, not showing by any tone of his voice the anxiety with which the question was asked.
'I think it is as good as settled,' Michel answered. Before they got back to the inn, George had thanked his father for his liberal offer, had declared that he would accede to Madame Faragon's proposition, and had made his father understand that he must return to Colmar on the next Monday,—two days before that on which Urmand was expected at Granpere.
The Monday came, and hitherto there had been no word of explanation between George and Marie. Every one in the house knew that he was about to return to Colmar, and every one in the house knew that he had been entirely reconciled to his father. Madame Voss had asked some question about him and Marie, and had been assured by her husband that there was nothing in that suspicion. 'I told you from the beginning,' said he, 'that there was nothing of that sort. I only wish that George would think of marrying some one, now that he is to have a large house of his own over his head.'
George had determined a dozen times that he would, and a dozen times that he would not, speak to Marie about her coming marriage, changing his mind as often as it was formed. Of what use was it to speak to her? he would say to himself. Then again he would resolve that he would scorch her false heart by one withering word before he went. Chance at last arranged it for him. Before he started he found himself alone with her for a moment, and it was almost impossible that he should not say something. Then he did speak.
'They tell me you are going to be married, Marie. I hope you will be happy and prosperous.'
'Who tells you so?'
'It is true at any rate, I suppose.'
'Not that I know of. If my uncle and aunt choose to dispose of me, I cannot help it.'
'It is well for girls to be disposed of sometimes. It saves them a world of trouble.'
'I don't know what you mean by that, George;—whether it is intended to be ill-natured.'
'No, indeed. Why should I be ill-natured to you? I heartily wish you to be well and happy. I daresay M. Urmand will make you a good husband. Good-bye, Marie. I shall be off in a few minutes. Will you not say farewell to me?'
'We used to be friends, Marie.'
'Yes;—we used to be friends.'
'And I have never forgotten the old days. I will not promise to come to your marriage, because it would not make either of us happy, but I shall wish you well. God bless you, Marie.' Then he put his arm round her and kissed her, as he might have done to a sister,—as it was natural that he should do to Marie Bromar, regarding her as a cousin. She did not speak a word more, and then he was gone!
She had been quite unable to tell him the truth. The manner in which he had first addressed her made it impossible for her to tell him that she was not engaged to marry Adrian Urmand,—that she was determined, if possible, to avoid the marriage, and that she had no love for Adrian Urmand. Had she done so, she would in so doing have asked him to come back to her. That she should do this was impossible. And yet as he left her, some suspicion of the truth, some half-formed idea of the real state of the man's mind in reference to her, flashed across her own. She seemed to feel that she was specially unfortunate, but she felt at the same time that there was no means within her reach of setting things right. And she was as convinced as ever she had been, that her uncle would never give his consent to a marriage between her and George Voss. As for George himself, he left her with an assured conviction that she was the promised bride of Adrian Urmand.
The world seemed very hard to Marie Bromar when she was left alone. Though there were many who loved her, of whose real affection she had no doubt, there was no one to whom she could go for assistance. Her uncle in this matter was her enemy, and her aunt was completely under her uncle's guidance. Madame Voss spoke to her often in these days of the coming of Adrian Urmand, but the manner of her speaking was such that no comfort could be taken from it. Madame Voss would risk an opinion as to the room which the young man ought to occupy, and the manner in which he should be fed and entertained. For it was thoroughly understood that he was coming on this occasion as a lover and not as a trader, and that he was coming as the guest of Michel Voss, and not as a customer to the inn. 'I suppose he can take his supper like the other people,' Marie said to her aunt. And again, when the question of wine was mooted, she was almost saucy. 'If he's thirsty,' she said, 'what did for him last week, will do for him next week: and if he's not thirsty, he had better leave it alone.' But girls are always allowed to be saucy about their lovers, and Madame Voss did not count this for much.
Marie was always thinking of those last words which had been spoken between her and George, and of the kiss that he had given her. 'We used to be friends,' he had said, and then he had declared that he had never forgotten old days. Marie was quick, intelligent, and ready to perceive at half a glance,—to understand at half a word, as is the way with clever women. A thrill had gone through her as she heard the tone of the young man's voice, and she had half told herself all the truth. He had not quite ceased to think of her. Then he went, without saying the other one word that would have been needful, without even looking the truth into her face. He had gone, and had plainly given her to understand that he acceded to this marriage with Adrian Urmand. How was she to read it all? Was there more than one way in which a wounded woman, so sore at heart, could read it? He had told her that though he loved her still, it did not suit him to trouble himself with her as a wife; and that he would throw upon her head the guilt of having been false to their old vows. Though she loved him better than all the world, she despised him for his thoughtful treachery. In her eyes it was treachery. He must have known the truth. What right had he to suppose that she would be false to him,—he, who had never known her to lie to him? And was it not his business, as a man, to speak some word, to ask some question, by which, if he doubted, the truth might be made known to him? She, a woman, could ask no question. She could speak no word. She could not renew her assurances to him, till he should have asked her to renew them. He was either false, or a traitor, or a coward. She was very angry with him;—so angry that she was almost driven by her anger to throw herself into Adrian's arms. She was the more angry because she was full sure that he had not forgotten his old love,—that his heart was not altogether changed. Had it appeared to her that the sweet words of former days had vanished from his memory, though they had clung to hers,—that he had in truth learned to look upon his Granpere experiences as the simple doings of his boyhood,—her pride would have been hurt, but she would have been angry with herself rather than with him. But it had not been so. The respectful silence of his sojourn in the house had told her that it was not so. The tremor in his voice as he reminded her that they once had been friends had plainly told her that it was not so. He had acknowledged that they had been betrothed, and that the plight between them was still strong; but, wishing to be quit of it, he had thrown the burden of breaking it upon her.