Nothing was said to Marie about her sins on that afternoon after her uncle had started on his journey. Everything in the hotel was blank, and sad, and gloomy; but there was, at any rate, the negative comfort of silence, and Marie was allowed to go about the house and do her work without rebuke. But she observed that the Cure — M. le Cure Gondin — sat much with her aunt during the evening, and she did not doubt but that she herself and her iniquities made the subject of their discourse.
M. le Cure Gondin, as he was generally called at Granpere — being always so spoken of, with his full name and title, by the large Protestant portion of the community — was a man very much respected by all the neighbourhood. He was respected by the Protestants because he never interfered with them, never told them, either behind their backs or before their faces, that they would be damned as heretics, and never tried the hopeless task of converting them. In his intercourse with them he dropped the subject of religion altogether — as a philologist or an entomologist will drop his grammar or his insects in his intercourse with those to whom grammar and insects are matters of indifference. And he was respected by the Catholics of both sorts — by those who did not and by those who did adhere with strictness to the letter of their laws of religion. With the former he did his duty, perhaps without much enthusiasm. He preached to them, if they would come and listen to him. He christened them, confessed them, and absolved them from their sins,- -of course, after due penitence. But he lived with them, too, in a friendly way, pronouncing no anathemas against them, because they were not as attentive to their religious exercises as they might have been. But with those who took a comfort in sacred things, who liked to go to early masses in cold weather, to be punctual at ceremonies, to say the rosary as surely as the evening came, who knew and performed all the intricacies of fasting as ordered by the bishop, down to the refinement of an egg more or less, in the whole Lent, or the absence of butter from the day’s cookery — with these he had all that enthusiasm which such people like to encounter in their priest. We may say, therefore, that he was a wise man — and probably, on the whole, a good man; that he did good service in his parish, and helped his people along in their lives not inefficiently. He was a small man, with dark hair very closely cut, with a tonsure that was visible but not more than visible; with a black beard that was shaved every Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday evenings, but which was very black indeed on the Tuesday and Friday mornings. He always wore the black gown of his office, but would go about his parish with an ordinary soft slouch hat — thus subjecting his appearance to an absence of ecclesiastical trimness which, perhaps, the most enthusiastic of his friends regretted. Madame Voss certainly would have wished that he would have had himself shaved at any rate every other day, and that he would have abstained from showing himself in the streets of Granpere without his clerical hat. But, though she was very intimate with her Cure, and had conferred upon him much material kindness, she had never dared to express her opinion to him upon these matters.
During much of that afternoon M. le Cure sat with Madame Voss, but not a word was said to Marie about her disobedience either by him or by her. Nevertheless, Marie felt that her sins were being discussed, and that the lecture was coming. She herself had never quite liked M. le Cure — not having any special reason for disliking him, but regarding him as a man who was perhaps a little deficient in spirit, and perhaps a trifle too mindful of his creature comforts. M. le Cure took a great deal of snuff, and Marie did not like snuff taking. Her uncle smoked a great deal of tobacco, and that she thought very nice and proper in a man. Had her uncle taken the snuff and the priest smoked the tobacco, she would probably have equally approved of her uncle’s practice and disapproved that of the priest; — because she loved the one and did not love the other. She had thought it probable that she might be sent for during the evening, and had, therefore, made for herself an immensity of household work, the performance of all which on that very evening the interests of the Lion d’Or would imperatively demand. The work was all done, but no message from Aunt Josey summoned Marie into the little parlour.
Nevertheless Marie had been quite right in her judgment. On the following morning, between eight and nine, M. le Cure was again in the house, and had a cup of coffee taken to him in the little parlour. Marie, who felt angry at his return, would not take it herself, but sent it in by the hands of Peter Veque. Peter Veque returned in a few minutes with a message to Marie, saying that M. le Cure wished to see her.
‘Tell him that I am very busy,’ said Marie. ‘Say that uncle is away, and that there is a deal to do. Ask him if another day won’t suit as well.’
She knew when she sent this message that another day would not suit as well. And she must have known also that her uncle’s absence made no difference in her work. Peter came back with a request from Madame Voss that Marie would go to her at once. Marie pressed her lips together, clenched her fists, and walked down into the room without the delay of an instant.
‘Marie, my dear,’ said Madame Voss, ‘M. le Cure wishes to speak to you. I will leave you for a few minutes.’ There was nothing for it but to listen. Marie could not refuse to be lectured by the priest. But she told herself that having had the courage to resist her uncle, it certainly was out of the question that any one else should have the power to move her.
‘My dear Marie,’ began the Cure, ‘your aunt has been telling me of this little difference between you and your affianced husband. Won’t you sit down, Marie, because we shall be able so to talk more comfortably?’
‘I don’t want to talk about it at all,’ said Marie. But she sat down as she was bidden.
‘But, my dear, it is needful that your friends should talk to you. I am sure that you have too much sense to think that a young woman like yourself should refuse to hear her friends.’ Marie had it almost on her tongue to tell the priest that the only friends to whom she chose to listen were her uncle and her aunt, but she thought that it might perhaps be better that she should remain silent. ‘Of course, my dear, a young person like you must know that she must walk by advice, and I am sure you must feel that no one can give it you more fittingly than your own priest.’ Then he took a large pinch of snuff.
‘If it were anything to do with the Church — yes,’ she said.
‘And this has to do with the Church, very much. Indeed I do not know how any of our duties in this life cannot have to do with the Church. There can be no duty omitted as to which you would not acknowledge that it was necessary that you should get absolution from your priest.’
‘But that would be in the church,’ said Marie, not quite knowing how to make good her point.
‘Whether you are in the church or out of it, is just the same. If you were sick and in bed, would your priest be nothing to you then?’
‘But I am quite well, Father Gondin.’
‘Well in health; but sick in spirit — as I am sure you must own. And I must explain to you, my dear, that this is a matter in which your religious duty is specially in question. You have been betrothed, you know, to M. Urmand.’
‘But people betrothed are very often not married,’ said Marie quickly. ‘There was Annette Lolme at Saint Die. She was betrothed to Jean Stein at Pugnac. That was only last winter. And then there was something wrong about the money; and the betrothal went for nothing, and Father Carrier himself said it was all right. If it was all right for Annette Lolme, it must be all right for me as far as betrothing goes.’
The story that Marie told so clearly was perfectly true, and M. le Cure Gondin knew that it was true. He wished now to teach Marie that if certain circumstances should occur after a betrothal which would make the marriage inexpedient in the eyes of the parents of the young people, then the authority of the Church would not exert itself to insist on the sacred nature of the pledge; — but that if the pledge was to be called in question simply at the instance of a capricious young woman, then the Church would have full power. His object, in short, was to insist on parental authority, giving to parental authority some little additional strength from his own sacerdotal recognition of the sanctity of the betrothing promise. But he feared that Marie would be too strong for him, if not also too clear-headed. ‘You cannot mean to tell me,’ said he, ‘that you think such a solemn promise as you have given to this young man, taking one from him as solemn in return, is to go for nothing?’
‘I am very sorry that I promised — very sorry indeed; but I cannot keep my promise.’
‘You are bound to keep it, especially as all your friends wish the marriage, and think that it will be good for you. Annette Lolme’s friends wished her not to marry. It is my duty to tell you, Marie, that if you break your faith to M. Urmand, you will commit a very grievous sin, and you will commit it with your eyes open.’
‘If Annette Lolme might change her mind because her lover had not got as much money as people wanted, I am sure I may change mine because I don’t love a man.’
‘Annette did what her friends advised her.’
‘Then a girl must always do what her friends tell her? If I don’t marry M. Urmand, I sha’n’t be wicked for breaking my promise, but for disobeying Uncle Michel.’
‘You will be wicked in every way,’ said the priest.
‘No, M. le Cure. If I had married M. Urmand, I know I should be wicked to leave him, and I would do my best to live with him and make him a good wife. But I have found out in time that I can’t love him; and therefore I am sure that I ought not to marry him, and I won’t.’
There was much more said between them, but M. le Cure Gondin was not able to prevail in the least. He tried to cajole her, and he tried to persuade by threats, and he tried to conquer her by gratitude and affection towards her uncle. But he could not prevail at all.
‘It is of no use my staying here any longer, M. le Cure,’ she said at last, ‘because I am quite sure that nothing on earth will induce me to consent. I am very sorry for what I have done. If you tell me that I have sinned, I will repent and confess it. I have repented, and am very, very sorry. I know now that I was very wrong ever to think it possible that I could be his wife. But you can’t make me think that I am wrong in this.’
Then she left him, and as soon as she was gone, Madame Voss returned to hear the priest’s report as to his success.
In the mean time, Michel Voss had reached Basle, arriving there some five hours before Marie’s letter, and, in his ignorance of the law, had made his futile attempt to intercept the letter before it reached the hands of M. Urmand. But he was with Urmand when the letter was delivered, and endeavoured to persuade his young friend not to open it. But in doing this he was obliged to explain, to a certain extent, what was the nature of the letter. He was obliged to say so much about it as to justify the unhappy lover in asserting that it would be better for them all that he should know the contents. ‘At any rate, you will promise not to believe it,’ said Michel. And he did succeed in obtaining from M. Urmand a sort of promise that he would not regard the words of the letter as in truth expressing Marie’s real resolution. ‘Girls, you know, are such queer cattle,’ said Michel. ‘They think about all manner of things, and then they don’t know what they are thinking.’
‘But who is the other man?’ demanded Adrian, as soon as he had finished the letter. Any one judging from his countenance when he asked the question would have imagined that in spite of his promise he believed every word that had been written to him. His face was a picture of blank despair, and his voice was low and hoarse. ‘You must know whom she means,’ he added, when Michel did not at once reply.
‘Yes; I know whom she means.’
‘Who is it then, M. Voss?’
‘It is George, of course,’ replied the innkeeper.
‘I did not know,’ said poor Adrian Urmand.
‘She never spoke a dozen words to any other man in her life, and as for him, she has hardly seen him for the last eighteen months. He has come over and said something to her, like a traitor — has reminded her of some childish promise, some old vow, something said when they were children, and meaning nothing; and so he has frightened her.’
‘I was never told that there was anything between them,’ said Urmand, beginning to think that it would become him to be indignant.
‘There was nothing to tell — literally nothing.’
‘They must have been writing to each other.’
‘Never a line; on my word as a man. It was just as I tell you. When George went from home, there had been some fooling, as I thought, between them; and I was glad that he should go. I didn’t think it meant anything, or ever would.’ As Michel Voss said this, there did occur to him an idea that perhaps, after all, he had been wrong to interfere in the first instance — that there had then been no really valid reason why George should not have married Marie Bromar; but that did not in the least influence his judgment as to what it might be expedient to do now. He was still as sure as ever that as things stood now, it was his duty to do all in his power to bring about the marriage between his niece and Adrian Urmand. ‘But since that, there has been nothing,’ continued he, ‘absolutely nothing. Ask her, and she will tell you so. It is some romantic idea of hers that she ought to stick to her first promise, now that she has been reminded of it.’
All this did not convince Adrian Urmand, who for a while expressed his opinion that it would be better for him to take Marie’s refusal, and thus to let the matter drop. It would be very bitter to him, because all Basle had now heard of his proposed marriage, and a whole shower of congratulations had already fallen upon him from his fellow-townspeople: but he thought that it would be more bitter to be rejected again in person by Marie Bromar, and then to be stared at by all the natives of Granpere. He acknowledged that George Voss was a traitor; and would have been ready to own that Marie was another, had Michel Voss given him any encouragement in that direction. But Michel throughout the whole morning — and they were closeted together for hours — declared that poor Marie was more sinned against than sinning. If Adrian was but once more over at Granpere, all would be made right. At last Michel Voss prevailed, and persuaded the young man to return with him to the Lion d’Or.
They started early on the following morning, and travelled to Granpere by way of Colmar and the mountain. The father thus passed twice through Colmar, but on neither occasion did he call upon his son.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01