Michel Voss at this time was a very unhappy man. He had taught himself to believe that it would be a good thing that his niece should marry Adrian Urmand, and that it was his duty to achieve this good thing in her behalf. He had had it on his mind for the last year, and had nearly brought it to pass. There was, moreover, now, at this present moment, a clear duty on him to be true to the young man who with his consent, and indeed very much at his instance, had become betrothed to Marie Bromar. The reader will understand how ideas of duty, not very clearly looked into or analysed, acted upon his mind. And then there was always present to him a recurrence of that early caution which had made him lay a parental embargo upon anything like love between his son and his wife’s niece. Without much thinking about it — for he probably never thought very much about anything — he had deemed it prudent to separate two young people brought up together, when they began, as he fancied, to be foolish. An elderly man is so apt to look upon his own son as a boy, and on a girl who has grown up under his nose as little more than a child! And then George in those days had had no business of his own, and should not have thought of such a thing! In this way the mind of Michel Voss had been forced into strong hostility against the idea of a marriage between Marie and his son, and had filled itself with the spirit of a partisan on the side of Adrian Urmand. But now, as things had gone, he had been made very unhappy by the state of his own mind, and consequently was beginning to feel a great dislike for the merchant from Basle. The stupid mean little fellow, with his white pocket-handkerchief, and his scent, and his black greasy hair, had made his way into the house and had destroyed all comfort and pleasure! That was the light in which Michel was now disposed to regard his previously honoured guest. When he made a comparison between Adrian and George, he could not but acknowledge that any girl of spirit and sense would prefer his son. He was very proud of his son — proud even of the lad’s disobedience to himself on such a subject; and this feeling added to his discomfort.
He had twice seen Marie in her bed during that day spoken of in the last chapter. On both occasions he had meant to be very firm; but it was not easy for such a one as Michel Voss to be firm to a young woman in her night-cap, rather pale, whose eyes were red with weeping. A woman in bed was to him always an object of tenderness, and a woman in tears, as his wife well knew, could on most occasions get the better of him. When he first saw Marie, he merely told her to lie still and take a little broth. He kissed her however and patted her cheek, and then got out of the room as quickly as he could. He knew his own weakness, and was afraid to trust himself to her prayers while she lay before him in that guise. When he went again, he had been unable not to listen to a word or two which she had prepared, and had ready for instant speech. ‘Uncle Michel,’ she said, ‘I will never marry any one without your leave, if you will let M. Urmand go away.’ He had almost come to wish by this time that M. Urmand would go away and never come back again. ‘How am I to send him away?’ he had said crossly. ‘If you tell him, I know he will go — at once,’ said Marie. Michel had muttered something about Marie’s illness and the impossibility of doing anything at present, and again had left the room. Then Marie began to take heart of grace, and to think that victory might yet be on her side. But how was George to know that she was firmly determined to throw those odious betrothals to the wind? Feeling it to be absolutely incumbent on her to convey to him this knowledge, she wrote the few words which the servant conveyed to her lover — making no promise in regard to him, but simply assuring him that she would never — never — never become the wife of that other man.
Early on the following morning Michel Voss went off by himself. He could not stay in bed, and he could not hang about the house. He did not know how to demean himself to either of the young men when he met them. He could not be cordial as he ought to be with Urmand; nor could he be austere to George with that austerity which he felt would have been proper on his part. He was becoming very tired of his dignity and authority. Hitherto the exercise of power in his household had generally been easy enough, his wife and Marie had always been loving and pleasant in their obedience. Till within these last weeks there had even been the most perfect accordance between him and his niece. ‘Send him away; — that’s very easily said,’ he muttered to himself as he went up towards the mountains; ‘but he has got my engagement, and of course he’ll hold me to it.’ He trudged on, he hardly knew whither. He was so unhappy, that the mills and the timber-cutting were nothing to him. When he had walked himself into a heat, he sat down and took out his pipe, but he smoked more by habit than for enjoyment. Supposing that he did bring himself to change his mind — which he did not think he ever would — how could he break the matter to Urmand? He told himself that he was sure he would not change his mind, because of his solemn engagement to the young man; but he did acknowledge that the young man was not what he had taken him to be. He was effeminate, and wanted spirit, and smelt of hair-grease. Michel had discovered none of these defects — had perhaps regarded the characteristics as meritorious rather than otherwise — while he had been hotly in favour of the marriage. Then the hair-grease and the rest of it had in his eyes simply been signs of the civilisation of the town as contrasted with the rusticity of the country. It was then a great thing in his eyes that Marie should marry a man so polished, though much of the polish may have come from pomade. Now his ideas were altered, and, as he sat alone upon the log, he continued to turn up his nose at poor M. Urmand. But how was he to be rid of him — and, if not of him, what was he to do then? Was he to let all authority go by the board, and allow the two young people to marry, although the whole village heard how he had pledged himself in this matter?
As he was sitting there, suddenly his son came upon him. He frowned and went on smoking, though at heart he felt grateful to George for having found him out and followed him. He was altogether tired of being alone, or, worse than that, of being left together with Adrian Urmand. But the overtures for a general reconciliation could not come first from him, nor could any be entertained without at least some show of obedience. ‘I thought I should find you up here,’ said George.
‘And now you have found me, what of that?’
‘I fancy we can talk better, father, up among the woods, than we can down there when that young man is hanging about. We always used to have a chat up here, you know.’
‘It was different then,’ said Michel. ‘That was before you had learned to think it a fine thing to be your own master and to oppose me in everything.’
‘I have never opposed you but in one thing, father.’
‘Ah, yes; in one thing. But that one thing is everything. Here I’ve been doing the best I could for both of you, striving to put you upon your legs, and make you a man and her a woman, and this is the return I get!’
‘But what would you have had me do?’
‘What would I have had you do? Not come here and oppose me in everything.’
‘But when this Adrian Urmand —’
‘I am sick of Adrian Urmand,’ said Michel Voss. George raised his eyebrows and stared. ‘I don’t mean that,’ said he; ‘but I am beginning to hate the very sight of the man. If he’d had the pluck of a wren, he would have carried her off long ago.’
‘I don’t know how that may be, but he hasn’t done it yet. Come, father; you don’t like the man any more than she does. If you get tired of him in three days, what would she do in her whole life?’
‘Why did she accept him, then?’
‘Perhaps, father, we were all to blame a little in that.’
‘I was not to blame — not in the least. I won’t admit it. I did the best I could for her. She accepted him, and they are betrothed. The Cure down there says it’s nearly as good as being married.’
‘Who cares what Father Gondin says?’ asked George.
‘I’m sure I don’t,’ said Michel Voss.
‘The betrothal means nothing, father, if either of them choose to change their minds. There was that girl over at Saint Die.’
‘Don’t tell me of the girl at Saint Die. I’m sick of hearing of the girl at Saint Die. What the mischief is the girl at Saint Die to us? We’ve got to do our duty if we can, like honest men and women; and not follow vagaries learned from Saint Die.’
The two men walked down the hill together, reaching the hotel about noon. Long before that time the innkeeper had fallen into a way of acknowledging that Adrian Urmand was an incubus; but he had not as yet quite admitted that there was any way of getting rid of the incubus. The idea of having the marriage on the 1st of the present month was altogether abandoned, and Michel had already asked how they might manage among them to send Adrian Urmand back to Basle. ‘He must come again, if he chooses,’ he had said; ‘but I suppose he had better go now. Marie is ill, and she mustn’t be worried.’ George proposed that his father should tell this to Urmand himself; but it seemed that Michel, who had never yet been known to be afraid of any man, was in some degree afraid of the little Swiss merchant.
‘Suppose my mother says a word to him,’ suggested George.
‘She wouldn’t dare for her life,’ answered the father.
‘I would do it.’
‘No, indeed, George; you shall do no such thing.’
Then George suggested the priest; but nothing had been settled when they reached the inn-door. There he was, swinging a cane at the foot of the billiard-room stairs — the little bug-a-boo, who was now so much in the way of all of them! The innkeeper muttered some salutation, and George just touched his hat. Then they both passed on, and went into the house.
Unfortunately the plea of Marie’s illness was in part cut from under their feet by the appearance of Marie herself. George, who had not as yet seen her, went up quickly to her, and, without saying a word, took her by the hand and held it. Marie murmured some pretence at a salutation, but what she said was heard by no one. When her uncle came to her and kissed her, her hand was still grasped in that of George. All this had taken place in the passage; and before Michel’s embrace was over, Adrian Urmand was standing in the doorway looking on. George, when he saw him, held tighter by the hand, and Marie made no attempt to draw it away.
‘What is the meaning of all this?’ said Urmand, coming up.
‘Meaning of what?’ asked Michel.
‘I don’t understand it — I don’t understand it at all,’ said Urmand.
‘Don’t understand what?’ said Michel. The two lovers were still holding each other’s hands; but Michel had not seen it; or, seeing it, had not observed it.
‘Am I to understand that Marie Bromar is betrothed to me, or not?’ demanded Adrian. ‘When I get an answer either way, I shall know what to do.’ There was in this an assumption of more spirit than had been expected on his part by his enemies at the Lion d’Or.
‘Why shouldn’t you be betrothed to her?’ said Michel. ‘Of course you are betrothed to her; but I don’t see what is the use of your talking so much about it.’
‘It is the first time I have said a word on the subject since I’ve been here,’ said Urmand. Which was true; but as Michel was continually thinking of the betrothal, he imagined that everybody was always talking to him of the matter. Marie had now managed to get her hand free, and had retired into the kitchen. Michel followed her, and stood meditative, with his back to the large stove. As it happened, there was no one else present there at the moment.
‘Tell him to go back to Basle,’ whispered Marie to her uncle. Michel only shook his head and groaned.
‘I don’t think I am at all well-treated here among you,’ said Adrian Urmand to George as soon as they were alone.
‘Any special friendship from me you can hardly expect,’ said George. ‘As to my father and the rest of them, if they ill-treat you, I suppose you had better leave them.’
‘I won’t put up with ill-treatment from anybody. It’s not what I’m used to.’
‘Look here, M. Urmand,’ said George. ‘I quite admit you have been badly used; and, on the part of the family, I am ready to apologise.’
‘I don’t want any apology.’
‘What do you want, M. Urmand?’
‘I want — I want — Never mind what I want. It is from your father that I shall demand it, not from you. I shall take care to see myself righted. I know the French law as well as the Swiss.’
‘If you’re talking of law, you had better go back to Basle and get a lawyer,’ said George.
There had been no word spoken of George returning to Colmar on that morning. He had told his father that he had brought nothing with him but what he had on; and in truth when he left Colmar he had not looked forward to any welcome which would induce him to remain at Granpere. But the course of things had been different from that which he had expected. He was much too good a general to think of returning now, and he had friends in the house who knew how to supply him with what was most necessary to him. Nobody had asked him to stay. His father had not uttered a word of welcome. But he did stay, and Michel would have been very much surprised indeed if he had heard that he had gone. The man in the stable had ventured to suggest that the old mare would not be wanted to go over the mountain that day. To this George assented, and made special request that the old mare might receive gentle treatment.
And so the day passed away. Marie, who had recovered her health, was busy as usual about the house. George and Urmand, though they did not associate, were rarely long out of each other’s sight; and neither the one nor the other found much opportunity for pressing his suit. George probably felt that there was not much need to do so, and Urmand must have known that any pressing of his suit in the ordinary way would be of no avail. The innkeeper tried to make work for himself about the place, had the carriages out and washed, inspected the horses, and gave orders as to the future slaughter of certain pigs. Everybody about the house, nevertheless, down to the smallest boy attached to the inn, knew that the landlord’s mind was pre-occupied with the love affairs of those two men. There was hardly an inhabitant of Granpere who did not understand what was going on; and, had it been the custom of the place to make bets on such matters, very long odds would have been wanted before any one would have backed Adrian Urmand. And yet two days ago he was considered to be sure of the prize. M. le Cure Gondin was a good deal at the hotel during the day, and perhaps he was the stanchest supporter of the Swiss aspirant. He endeavoured to support Madame Voss, having that strong dislike to yield an inch in practice or in doctrine, which is indicative of his order. He strove hard to make Madame Voss understand that if only she would be firm and cause her husband to be firm also, Marie would, of course, yield at last. ‘I have ever so many young women just in the same way,’ said the Cure, ‘and you would have thought they were going to break their hearts; but as soon as ever they have been married, they have forgotten all that.’ Madame Voss would have been quite contented to comply with the priest’s counsel, could she have seen the way with her husband. But it had become almost manifest even to her, with the Cure to support her, that the star of Adrian Urmand was on the wane. She felt from every word that Marie spoke to her, that Marie herself was confident of success. And it may be said of Madame Voss, that although she had been forced by Michel into a kind of enthusiasm on behalf of the Swiss marriage, she had no very eager wishes of her own on the subject. Marie was her own niece, and was dear to her; but the girl was sure of a well-to-do husband whichever way the war went; and what aunt need desire more for her most favourite niece than a well-to-do husband?
The day went by, and the supper was eaten, and the cigars were smoked, and then they all went to bed. But nothing more had been settled. That obstinate young man, M. Adrian Urmand, though he had talked of his lawyer, had said not a word of going back to Basle.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01