During the remainder of the day on which George had left Granpere, the hours did not fly very pleasantly at the Lion d’Or. Michel Voss had gone to his niece immediately upon his return from his walk, intending to obtain a renewed pledge from her that she would be true to her engagement. But he had been so full of passion, so beside himself with excitement, so disturbed by all that he had heard, that he had hardly waited with Marie long enough to obtain such pledge, or to learn from her that she refused to give it. He had only been able to tell her that if she hesitated about marrying Adrian she should never look upon his face again; and then without staying for a reply he had left her. He had been in such a tremor of passion that he had been unable to demand an answer. After that, when George was gone, he kept away from her during the remainder of the morning. Once or twice he said a few words to his wife, and she counselled him to take no farther outward notice of anything that George had said to him. ‘It will all come right if you will only be a little calm with her,’ Madame Voss had said. He had tossed his head and declared that he was calm; — the calmest man in all Lorraine. Then he had come to his wife again, and she had again given him some good practical advice. ‘Don’t put it into her head that there is to be a doubt,’ said Madame Voss.
‘I haven’t put it into her head,’ he answered angrily.
‘No, my dear, no; but do not allow her to suppose that anybody else can put it there either. Let the matter go on. She will see the things bought for her wedding, and when she remembers that she has allowed them to come into the house without remonstrating, she will be quite unable to object. Don’t give her an opportunity of objecting.’ Michel Voss again shook his head, as though his wife were an unreasonable woman, and swore that it was not he who had given Marie such opportunity. But he made up his mind to do as his wife recommended. ‘Speak softly to her, my dear,’ said Madame Voss.
‘Don’t I always speak softly?’ said he, turning sharply round upon his spouse.
He made his attempt to speak softly when he met Marie about the house just before supper. He put his hand upon her shoulder, and smiled, and murmured some word of love. He was by no means crafty in what he did. Craft indeed was not the strong point of his character. She took his rough hand and kissed it, and looked up lovingly, beseechingly into his face. She knew that he was asking her to consent to the sacrifice, and he knew that she was imploring him to spare her. This was not what Madame Voss had meant by speaking softly. Could she have been allowed to dilate upon her own convictions, or had she been able adequately to express her own ideas, she would have begged that there might be no sentiment, no romance, no kissing of hands, no looking into each other’s faces — no half-murmured tones of love. Madame Voss believed strongly that the every-day work of the world was done better without any of these glancings and glimmerings of moonshine. But then her husband was, by nature, of a fervid temperament, given to the influence of unexpressed poetic emotions; — and thus subject, in spite of the strength of his will, to much weakness of purpose. Madame Voss perhaps condemned her husband in this matter the more because his romantic disposition never showed itself in his intercourse with her. He would kiss Marie’s hand, and press Marie’s wrist, and hold dialogues by the eye with Marie. But with his wife his speech was,- -not exactly yea, yea, and nay, nay — but yes, yes, and no, no. It was not unnatural therefore that she should specially dislike this weakness of his which came from his emotional temperament. ‘I would just let things go, as though there were nothing special at all,’ she said again to him, before supper, in a whisper.
‘And so I do. What would you have me say?’
‘Don’t mind petting her, but just be as you would be any other day.’
‘I am as I would be any other day,’ he replied. However, he knew that his wife was right, and was in a certain way aware that if he could only change himself and be another sort of man, he might manage the matter better. He could be fiercely angry, or caressingly affectionate. But he was unable to adopt that safe and golden mean, which his wife recommended. He could not keep himself from interchanging a piteous glance or two with Marie at supper, and put a great deal too much unction into his caress to please Madame Voss, when Marie came to kiss him before she went to bed.
In the mean time Marie was quite aware that it was incumbent on her to determine what she would do. It may be as well to declare at once that she had determined — had determined fully, before her uncle and George had started for their walk up to the wood-cutting. When she was giving them their breakfast that morning her mind was fully made up. She had had the night to lie awake upon it, to think it over, and to realise all that George had told her. It had come to her as quite a new thing that the man whom she worshipped, worshipped her too. While she believed that nobody else loved her;- -when she could tell herself that her fate was nothing to anybody; — as long as it had seemed to her that the world for her must be cold, and hard, and material; — so long could she reconcile to herself, after some painful, dubious fashion, the idea of being the wife either of Adrian Urmand, or of any other man. Some kind of servitude was needful, and if her uncle was decided that she must be banished from his house, the kind of servitude which was proposed to her at Basle would do as well as another. But when she had learned the truth — a truth so unexpected — then such servitude became impossible to her. On that morning, when she came down to give the men their breakfast, she had quite determined that let the consequences be what they might she would never become the wife of Adrian Urmand. Madame Voss had told her husband that when Marie saw the things purchased for her wedding coming into the house, the very feeling that the goods had been bought would bind her to her engagement. Marie had thought of that also, and was aware that she must lose no time in making her purpose known, so that articles which would be unnecessary might not be purchased. On that very morning, while the men had been up in the mountain, she had sat with her aunt hemming sheets; — intended as an addition to the already overflowing stock possessed by M. Urmand. It was with difficulty that she had brought herself to do that — telling herself, however, that as the linen was there, it must be hemmed; when there had come a question of marking the sheets, she had evaded the task — not without raising suspicion in the bosom of Madame Voss.
But it was, as she knew, absolutely necessary that her uncle should be informed of her purpose. When he had come to her after the walk, and demanded of her whether she still intended to marry Adrian Urmand, she had answered him falsely. ‘I suppose so,’ she had said. The question — such a question as it was — had been put to her too abruptly to admit of a true answer on the spur of the moment. But the falsehood almost stuck in her throat and was a misery to her till she could set it right by a clear declaration of the truth. She had yet to determine what she would do; — how she would tell this truth; in what way she would insure to herself the power of carrying out her purpose. Her mind, the reader must remember, was somewhat dark in the matter. She was betrothed to the man, and she had always heard that a betrothal was half a marriage. And yet she knew of instances in which marriages had been broken off after betrothal quite as ceremonious as her own — had been broken off without scandal or special censure from the Church. Her aunt, indeed, and M. le Cure had, ever since the plighting of her troth to M. Urmand, spoken of the matter in her presence, as though the wedding were a thing already nearly done; — not suggesting by the tenor of their speech that any one could wish in any case to make a change, but pointing out incidentally that any change was now out of the question. But Marie had been sharp enough to understand perfectly the gist of her aunt’s manoeuvres and of the priest’s incidental information. The thing could be done, she know; and she feared no one in the doing of it — except her uncle. But she did fear that if she simply told him that it must be done, he would have such a power over her that she would not succeed. In what way could she do it first, and then tell him afterwards?
At last she determined that she would write a letter to M. Urmand, and show a copy of the letter to her uncle when the post should have taken it so far out of Granpere on its way to Basle, as to make it impossible that her uncle should recall it. Much of the day after George’s departure, and much of the night, was spent in the preparation of this letter. Marie Bromar was not so well practised in the writing of letters as will be the majority of the young ladies who may, perhaps, read her history. It was a difficult thing for her to begin the letter, and a difficult thing for her to bring it to its end. But the letter was written and sent. The post left Granpere at about eight in the morning, taking all letters by way of Remiremont; and on the day following George’s departure, the post took Marie Bromar’s letter to M. Urmand.
When it was gone, her state of mind was very painful. Then it was necessary that she should show the copy to her uncle. She had posted the letter between six and seven with her own hands, and had then come trembling back to the inn, fearful that her uncle should discover what she had done before her letter should be beyond his reach. When she saw the mail conveyance go by on its route to Remiremont, then she knew that she must begin to prepare for her uncle’s wrath. She thought that she had heard that the letters were detained some time at Remiremont before they went on to Epinal in one direction, and to Mulhouse in the other. She looked at the railway time-table which was hung up in one of the passages of the inn, and saw the hour of the departure of the diligence from Remiremont to catch the train at Mulhouse for Basle. When that hour was passed, the conveyance of her letter was insured, and then she must show the copy to her uncle. He came into the house about twelve, and eat his dinner with his wife in the little chamber. Marie, who was in and out of the room during the time, would not sit down with them. When pressed to do so by her uncle, she declared that she had eaten lately and was not hungry. It was seldom that she would sit down to dinner, and this therefore gave rise to no special remark. As soon as his meal was over, Michel Voss got up to go out about his business, as was usual with him. Then Marie followed him into the passage. ‘Uncle Michel,’ she said, ‘I want to speak to you for a moment; will you come with me?’
‘What is it about, Marie?’
‘If you will come, I will show you.’
‘Show me! What will you show me?’
‘It’s a letter, Uncle Michel. Come up-stairs and you shall see it.’ Then he followed her up-stairs, and in the long public room, which was at that hour deserted, she took out of her pocket the copy of her letter to Adrian Urmand, and put it into her uncle’s hands. ‘It is a letter, Uncle Michel, which I have written to M. Urmand. It went this morning, and you must see it.’
‘A letter to Urmand,’ he said, as he took the paper suspiciously into his hands.
‘Yes, Uncle Michel. I was obliged to write it. It is the truth, and I was obliged to let him know it. I am afraid you will be angry with me, and — turn me away; but I cannot help it.’
The letter was as follows:
‘The Hotel Lion d’Or, Granpere,
October 1, 186-.
‘I take up my pen in great sorrow and remorse to write you a letter, and to prevent you from coming over here for me, as you intended, on this day fortnight. I have promised to be your wife, but it cannot be. I know that I have behaved very badly, but it would be worse if I were to go on and deceive you. Before I knew you I had come to be fond of another man; and I find now, though I have struggled hard to do what my uncle wishes, that I could not promise to love you and be your wife. I have not told Uncle Michel yet, but I shall as soon as this letter is gone.
‘I am very, very sorry for the trouble I have given you. I did not mean to be bad. I hope that you will forget me, and try to forgive me. No one knows better than I do how bad I have been.
‘Your most humble servant,
‘With the greatest respect,
The letter had taken her long to write, and it took her uncle long to read, before he came to the end of it. He did not get through a line without sundry interruptions, which all arose from his determination to contradict at once every assertion which she made. ‘You cannot prevent his coming,’ he said, ‘and it shall not be prevented.’ ‘Of course, you have promised to be his wife, and it must be.’ ‘Nonsense about deceiving him. He is not deceived at all.’ ‘Trash — you are not fond of another man. It is all nonsense.’ ‘You must do what your uncle wishes. You must, now! you must! Of course, you will love him. Why can’t you let all that come as it does with others?’ ‘Letter gone; — yes indeed, and now I must go after it.’ ‘Trouble! — yes! Why could you not tell me before you sent it? Have I not always been good to you?’ ‘You have not been bad; not before. You have been very good. It is this that is bad.’ ‘Forget you indeed. Of course he won’t. How should he? Are you not betrothed to him? He’ll forgive you fast enough, when you just say that you did not know what you were about when you were writing it.’ Thus her uncle went on; and as the outburst of his wrath was, as it were, chopped into little bits by his having to continue the reading of the letter, the storm did not fall upon Marie’s head so violently as she had expected. ‘There’s a pretty kettle of fish you’ve made!’ said he as soon as he had finished reading the letter. ‘Of course, it means nothing.’
‘But it must mean something, Uncle Michel.’
‘I say it means nothing. Now I’ll tell you what I shall do, Marie. I shall start for Basle directly. I shall get there by twelve o’clock to-night by going through Colmar, and I shall endeavour to intercept the letter before Urmand would receive it tomorrow.’ This was a cruel blow to Marie after all her precautions. ‘If I cannot do that, I shall at any rate see him before he gets it. That is what I shall do; and you must let me tell him, Marie, that you repent having written the letter.’
‘But I don’t repent it, Uncle Michel; I don’t, indeed. I can’t repent it. How can I repent it when I really mean it? I shall never become his wife; — indeed I shall not. O, Uncle Michel, pray, pray, pray do not go to Basle!’
But Michel Voss resolved that he would go to Basle, and to Basle he went. The immediate weight, too, of Marie’s misery was aggravated by the fact that in order to catch the train for Basle at Colmar, her uncle need not start quite immediately. There was an hour during which he could continue to exercise his eloquence upon his niece, and endeavour to induce her to authorise him to contradict her own letter. He appealed first to her affection, and then to her duty; and after that, having failed in these appeals, he poured forth the full vials of his wrath upon her head. She was ungrateful, obstinate, false, unwomanly, disobedient, irreligious, sacrilegious, and an idiot. In the fury of his anger, there was hardly any epithet of severe rebuke which he spared, and yet, as every cruel word left his mouth, he assured her that it should all be taken to mean nothing, if she would only now tell him that he might nullify the letter. Though she had deserved all these bad things which he had spoken of her, yet she should be regarded as having deserved none of them, should again be accepted as having in all points done her duty, if she would only, even now, be obedient. But she was not to be shaken. She had at last formed a resolution, and her uncle’s words had no effect towards turning her from it. ‘Uncle Michel,’ she said at last, speaking with much seriousness of purpose, and a dignity of person that was by no means thrown away upon him, ‘if I am what you say, I had better go away from your house. I know I have been bad. I was bad to say that I would marry M. Urmand. I will not defend myself. But nothing on earth shall make me marry him. You had better let me go away, and get a place as a servant among our friends at Epinal.’ But Michel Voss, though he was heaping abuse upon her with the hope that he might thus achieve his purpose, had not the remotest idea of severing the connection which bound him and her together. He wanted to do her good, not evil. She was exquisitely dear to him. If she would only let him have his way and provide for her welfare as he saw, in his wisdom, would be best, he would at once take her in his arms again and tell her that she was the apple of his eye. But she would not; and he went at last off on his road to Colmar and Basle, gnashing his teeth in anger.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01