“YES, I have somebody in mind,” replied Father Maurice. “It is a Leonard, the widow of a Guérin. She lives at Fourche.”
“I know neither the woman nor the place,” answered Germain, resigned, but growing more and more melancholy.
“Her name is Catherine, like your dead wife’s.”
“Catherine? Yes, I shall be glad to have to pronounce that name, Catherine; and yet if I cannot love one as much as the other, it will pain me all the more. It will bring her to my mind more often.”
“I tell you, you will love her. She is a good soul, a woman with a warm heart. I have not seen her for a long time. She was not an ugly girl then. But she is no longer young. She is thirty-two. She comes of a good family, honest people all of them, and for property she has eight or ten thousand francs in land which she would sell gladly in order to invest in the place where she settles. For she, too, is thinking of marrying again, and I know that if your character pleases her, she will not be dissatisfied with your situation.”
“So you have made all the arrangements?”
“Yes, except that I have not had an opinion from either of you, and that is what you must ask each other when you meet. The woman’s father is a distant connection of mine, and he has been a good friend to me. You know Father Leonard well?”
“Yes, I have seen you two talking at the market, and at the last you lunched together. Then it was about her that he spoke to you so long?”
“Certainly. He watched you selling your cattle and saw that you drove a shrewd bargain, and that you were a good-looking fellow and appeared active and intelligent; and when I told him what a good fellow you were and how well you have behaved toward us, without one word of vexation or anger during the eight years we have been living and working together, he took it into his head to marry you to his daughter. This suits me, too, I admit, when I think of her good reputation and the honesty of her family and the prosperous condition I know her affairs are in.”
“I see, Father Maurice, that you have an eye to money.”
“Of course I do; you have, too, have you not?”
“I do look toward it, if you wish, for your sake; but you know that, for my own part, I don’t worry whether I gain or not in what we make. I don’t understand about profit-sharing; I have no head for that sort of thing. I understand the ground; I understand cattle, horses, carts, sowing, threshing, and provender. As for sheep, and vineyards, and vegetables, petty profits, and fine gardening, you know that is your son’s business. I don’t have much to do with it. As to money, my memory is short, and I should rather give up everything than fight about what is yours and what is mine. I should be afraid of making some mistake and claiming what does not belong to me, and if business were not so clear and simple I should never find my way in it.”
“So much the worse, my son; and this is the reason I wish you to have a wife with a clear head to fill my place when I am gone. You never wished to understand our accounts, and this might lead you into a quarrel with my son, when you don’t have me any longer to keep you in harmony and decide what is each one’s share.”
“May you live long, Father Maurice. But do not worry about what will happen when you die. I shall never quarrel with your son. I trust Jacques as I do you; and as I have no property of my own, and all that might accrue to me comes from your daughter and belongs to our children, I can rest easy, and you, too. Jacques would never rob his sister’s children for the sake of his own, for he loves them all equally.”
“You are right, Germain. Jacques is a good son, a good brother, and a man who loves the truth. But Jacques may die before you, before your children grow up; and in a family we must always remember never to leave children without a head to look after them and govern their disagreements; otherwise, the lawyer-people mix themselves up in it, stir them up to fight, and make them eat up everything in law-suits. So we ought not to think of bringing home another person, man or woman, without remembering that some day or other that person may have to control the behavior and business of twenty or thirty children and grandchildren, sons-inlaw and daughters-inlaw. We never know how big a family can grow, and when a hive is so full that the bees must form new swarms, each one wishes to carry off her share of the honey. When I took you for my son, although my daughter was rich and you were poor, I never reproached her for choosing you. I saw that you were a hard worker, and I knew very well that the best fortune for people in such a country as ours is a pair of arms and a heart like yours. When a man brings these into a family, he brings enough. But with a woman it is different. Her work indoors saves, but it does not gain. Besides, now that you are a father, looking for a second wife, you must remember that your new children will have no claim on the property of your children by another wife; and if you should happen to die they might suffer very much — at least, if your wife had no money in her own right. And then the children which you will add to our colony will cost something to bring up. If that fell on us alone, we should surely take care of them without a word of complaint; but the comfort of everybody would suffer, and your eldest children would bear their share of hardship. When families grow too large, if money does not keep pace, misery comes, no matter how bravely you bear up. This is what I wished to say, Germain; think it over, and try to make the widow Guérin like you; for her discretion and her dollars will help us now and make us feel easy about the future.”
“That is true, Father. I shall try to please her and to like her.”
“To do that you must go to find her, and see her.”
“At her own place? At Fourche? That is a great way from here, is it not? And we scarcely have time to run off at this season of the year.”
“When it is a question of a love-match you must make up your mind to lose time, but when it is a sensible marriage of two people, who take no sudden fancies and know what they want, it is very soon decided. To-morrow is Saturday; you will make your day’s work a little shorter than usual. You must start after dinner about two o’clock. You will be at Fourche by nightfall. The moon rises early. The roads are good, and it is not more than three leagues distant. It is near Magnier. Besides, you will take the mare.”
“I had just as lief go afoot in this cool weather.”
“Yes, but the mare is pretty, and a suitor looks better when he comes well mounted. You must put on your new clothes and carry a nice present of game to Father Leonard. You will come from me and talk with him, pass all of Sunday with his daughter, and come back Monday morning with a yes or no.”
“Very well,” answered Germain calmly, and yet he did not feel very calm.
Germain had always lived soberly, as industrious peasants do. Married at twenty, he had loved but one woman in his life, and after her death, impulsive and gay as his nature was, he had never played nor trifled with another. He had borne a real sorrow faithfully in his heart, and it was not without misgiving nor without sadness that he yielded to his father-inlaw; but that father had always governed the family wisely, and Germain, entirely devoted as he was to the common welfare and so, by consequence, to the head of the house, who represented it, could not understand that he might have wronged his own good sense and hurt the interests of all. Nevertheless, he was sad. Few days went by when he did not cry in secret, for his wife, and although loneliness began to weigh on him, he was more afraid of entering into a new marriage than desirous of finding a support in his sorrow. He had a vague idea that love might have consoled him by coming to him of a sudden, for this is the only way love can console. We never find it when we seek it; it comes over us unawares.
This cold-blooded scheme of marriage that Father Maurice had opened to him, this unknown woman he was to take for his bride, perhaps even all that had been said to him of her virtue and good sense, made him pause to think. And he went away musing as men do whose thoughts are too few to divide into hostile factions, not scraping up fine arguments for rebellion and selfishness but suffering from a dull grief, submissive to ills from which there is no escape.
Meanwhile, Father Maurice had returned to the farm, while Germain, between sunset and dark, spent the closing hour of the day in repairing gaps the sheep had made in the hedge of a yard near the farm-buildings. He lifted up the branches of the thorn-bushes and held them in place with clods of earth, whilst the thrushes chattered in the neighboring thicket and seemed to call to him to hurry, for they were eager to come and see his work as soon as he had gone.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:54