It is probable that all those concerned in the matter who slept at the Lion d’Or that night, made up their minds that on the following day the powers of the establishment must come to some decision. It was not right that a young woman should have to live in the house with two favoured lovers; nor, as regarded the young men, was it right that they should be allowed to go on glaring at each other. Both Michel and Madame Voss feared that they would do more than glare, seeing that they were so like two dogs with one bone between them, who, in such an emergency, will generally fight. Urmand himself was quite alive to the necessity of putting an end to his present exceptionally disagreeable position. He was very angry; very angry naturally with Marie, who had, he thought, treated him villainously. Why had she made that little soft, languid promise to him when he was last at Granpere, if she had not then loved him? And of course he was angry with George Voss. What unsuccessful lover fails of being angry with his happy rival? And then George had behaved with outrageous impropriety. Urmand was beginning now to have a clear insight of the circumstances. George and Marie had been lovers, and then George, having been sent away, had forgotten his love for a year or more. But when the girl had been accommodated with another lover, then he thrust himself forward and disturbed everybody’s arrangements! No conduct could have been worse than this. But, nevertheless, Urmand’s anger was the hottest against Michel Voss himself. Had he been left alone at Basle, had he been allowed to receive Marie’s letter, and act upon it in accordance with his own judgment, he would never have made himself ridiculous by appearing at Granpere as a discomfited lover. But the innkeeper had come and dragged him away from home, had misrepresented everything, had carried him away, as it were, by force to the scene of his disgrace, and now — threw him over! He, at any rate, he, Michel Voss, should, as Adrian Urmand felt very bitterly, have been true and constant; but Michel, whose face could not lie, whatever his words might do, was clearly as anxious to be rid of his young friend as were any of the others in the hotel. Urmand himself would have been very glad to be back at Basle. He had come to regard any farther connection with the inn at Granpere as extremely undesirable. The Voss family was low. He had found that out during his present visit. But how was he to get away, and not look, as he was going, like a dog with his tail between his legs? He had so clear a right to demand Marie’s hand, that he could not bring himself to bear to be robbed of his claim. And yet he had come to perceive how very foolish such a marriage would be. He had been told that he could do better. Of course he could do better. But how could he be rid of his bargain without submitting to ill-treatment? If Michel had not come and fetched him away from his home the ill-treatment would have been by comparison slight, and of that normal kind to which young men are accustomed. But to be brought over to the house, and then to be deserted by everybody in the house! How, O how, was he to get out of the house? Such were his reflections as he sat solitary in the long public room drinking his coffee, and eating an omelet, with which Peter Veque had supplied him, but which had in truth been cooked for him very carefully by Marie Bromar herself. In her present frame of mind Marie would have cooked ortolans for him had he wished for them.
And while Urmand was eating his omelet and thinking of his wrongs, Michel Voss and his son were standing together at the stable door. Michel had been there some time before his son had joined him, and when George came up to him he put out his hand almost furtively. George grasped it instantly, and then there came a tear into the innkeeper’s eye. ‘I have brought you a little of that tobacco we were talking of,’ said George, taking a small packet out of his pocket.
‘Thank ye, George; thank ye; but it does not much matter now what I smoke. Things are going wrong, and I don’t get satisfaction out of anything.’
‘Don’t say that, father.’
‘How can I help saying it? Look at that fellow up there. What am I to do with him? What am I to say to him? He means to stay there till he gets his wife.’
‘He’ll never get a wife here, if he stays till the house falls on him.’
‘I can see that now. But what am I to say to him? How am I to get rid of him? There is no denying, you know, that he has been treated badly among us.’
‘Would he take a little money, father?’
‘No. He’s not so bad as that.’
‘I should not have thought so; only he talked to me about his lawyer.’
‘Ah; — he did that in his anger. By George, if I was in his position I should try and raise the very devil. But don’t talk of giving him money, George. He’s not bad in that way.’
‘He shouldn’t have said anything about his lawyer.’
‘You wait till you’re placed as he is, and you’ll find that you’ll say anything that comes uppermost. But what are we to do with him, George?’
Then the matter was discussed in the utmost confidence, and in all its bearings. George offered to have a carriage and pair of horses got ready for Remiremont, and then to tell the young man that he was expected to get into it, and go away; but Michel felt that there must be some more ceremonious treatment than that. George then suggested that the Cure should give the message, but Michel again objected. The message, he felt, must be given by himself. The doing this would be very bitter to him, because it would be necessary that he should humble himself before the scented shiny head of the little man: but Michel knew that it must be so. Urmand had been undoubtedly ill-treated among them, and the apology for that ill-treatment must be made by the chief of the family himself. ‘I suppose I might as well go to him alone,’ said Michel, groaning.
‘Well, yes; I should say so,’ replied his son. ‘Soonest begun, soonest over; — and I suppose I might as well order the horses.’
To this latter suggestion the father made no reply, but went slowly into the house. He turned for a moment into Marie’s little office, and stood there hesitating whether he would tell her his mission. As she was to be made happy, why should she not know it?
‘You two have got the better of me among you,’ he said.
‘Which two, Uncle Michel?’
‘Which two? Why, you and George. And what I’m to do with the gentleman upstairs, it passes me to think. Thank heaven, it will be a great many years before Flos wants a husband.’ Flos was the little daughter up-stairs, who was as yet no more than five years old.
‘I hope, Uncle Michel, you’ll never have anybody else as naughty and troublesome as I have been,’ said Marie, pressing close to him. She was indescribably happy. She was to be saved from the lover whom she did not want. She was to have the lover whom she did want. And, over and above all this, a spirit of kind feeling and full sympathy existed once more between her and her dear friend. As she offered no advice in regard to the disposal of the gentleman up-stairs, Michel was obliged to go upon his painful duty, trusting to his own wit.
In the long room up-stairs he found Adrian Urmand sitting at the closed window, looking out at the ducks who were paddling in a temporary pool made by the late rains. He had been painfully in want of something to do — so much so that he had more than once almost resolved to put his things into his bag, and leave the house without saying a word of farewell to any one. Had there been any means for him to escape from Granpere without saying a word, he would have done so. But at Granpere there was no railway, and the only public conveyance in and out of the place started from the door of the Lion d’Or; started every morning, with much ceremony, so that it was impossible for him to fly unobserved. There he was, watching the ducks, when Michel entered the room, and very much disposed to quarrel with any one who approached him.
‘I’m afraid you find it rather dull here,’ said Michel, beginning the conversation.
‘It is dull; very dull indeed.’
‘That is the worst of it. We are dull people here in the country. We have not the distractions which you town folk can always find. There’s not much to do, and nothing to look at.’
‘Very little to look at, that’s worth the trouble of looking,’ said Urmand.
There was a malignity of satire intended in this; for the young man in his wrath, and with a full conviction of what was coming upon him, had intended to include his betrothed in the catalogue of things of Granpere not worthy of inspection. But Michel Voss did not at all follow him so far as that.
‘I never saw such a place,’ continued Urmand. ‘There isn’t a soul even to play a game of billiards with.’
Now Michel Voss, although for a purpose he had been willing to make little of his own village, did in truth consider that Granpere was at any rate as good a place to live in as Basle. And he felt that though he might abuse Granpere, it was very uncourteous in Adrian Urmand to do so. ‘I don’t think much of playing billiards in the morning, I must own,’ said he.
‘I daresay not,’ said Urmand, still looking at the ducks.
Michel had made no progress as yet, so he sat down and scratched his head. The more he thought of it, the larger the difficulty seemed to be. He was quite aware now that it was his own unfortunate journey to Basle which had brought so heavy a burden on him. It was as yet no more than three or four days since he had taken upon himself to assure the young man that he, by his own authority, would make everything right; and now he was forced to acknowledge that everything was wrong. ‘M. Urmand,’ he said at last, ‘it has been a very great grief to me, a very great grief indeed, that you should have found things so uncomfortable.’
‘What things do you mean?’ said Urmand.
‘Well — everything — about Marie, you know. When I went over to Basle the other day, I didn’t think how it was going to turn out. I didn’t indeed.’
‘And how is it going to turn out?’
‘I can’t make the young woman consent, you know,’ said the innkeeper.
‘Let me tell you, M. Voss, that I wouldn’t have the young woman, as you call her, if she consented ever so much. She has disgraced me.’
To this Michel listened with perfect equanimity.
‘She has disgraced you.’
At hearing this Michel bit his lips, telling himself, however, that there had been mistakes made, and that he was bound to bear a good deal.
‘And she has disgraced herself,’ said Adrian Urmand, with all the emphasis that he had at command.
‘I deny it,’ said Marie’s uncle, coming close up to his opponent, and standing before him. ‘I deny it. It is not true. That shall not be said in my hearing, even by you.’
‘But I do say it. She has disgraced herself. Did she not give me her troth, when all the time she intended to marry another man?’
‘No! She did nothing of the kind. And look here, my friend, if you wish to be treated like a man in this house, you had better not say anything against any of the women who live in it. You may abuse me as much as you please — and George too, if it will do you any good. There have been mistakes made, and we owe you something.’
‘By heavens, yes; you do.’
‘But you sha’n’t take it out in saying anything against Marie Bromar — not in my hearing.’
‘Why; — what will you do?’
‘Don’t drive me to do anything, M. Urmand. If there is any compensation possible —’
‘Of course there must be compensation.’
‘What is it you will take? Is it money?’
‘Money; — no. As for money, I’m better off than any of you.’
‘What is it, then? You don’t want the girl herself?’
‘No; — certainly not. I would not take her if she came and knelt to me.’
‘What can we do, then? If you will only say.’
‘I want — I want — I don’t know what I want. I have been cruelly ill-used, and made a fool of before everybody. I never heard of such a case before; — never. And I have been so generous and honest to you! I did not ask for a franc of dot; and now you come and offer me money. I don’t think any man ever was so badly used anywhere.’ And on saying this Adrian Urmand in very truth burst into tears.
The innkeeper’s heart was melted at once. It was all so true! Between them they had treated him very badly. But then there had been so many unfortunate and unavoidable mistakes! When the young man talked of compensation, what was Michel Voss to think? His son had been led into exactly the same error. Nevertheless, he repented himself bitterly in that he had said anything about money, and was prepared to make the most abject apologies. Adrian Urmand had fallen into a chair, and Michel Voss came and seated himself close beside him.
‘I beg your pardon, Urmand; I do indeed. I ought not to have mentioned money. But when you spoke of compensation —’
‘It wasn’t that. It wasn’t that. It’s my feelings!’
Then the white cambric handkerchief was taken out and used with considerable vehemence.
From that moment the innkeeper’s goodwill towards Urmand returned, though of course he was quite aware that there was no place for him in that family.
‘If there is anything I can do, I will do it,’ said Michel piteously. ‘It has been unfortunate. I know it has been very unfortunate. But we didn’t mean to be untrue.’
‘If you had only left me alone when I was at home?’ said the unfortunate young man, who was still sobbing bitterly.
They two remained in the long room together for a considerable time, during all of which Michel Voss was as gentle as though Urmand had been a child. Nor did the poor rejected lover again have recourse to any violence of abuse, though he would over and over again repeat his opinion that surely, since lovers were first known in the world, and betrothals of marriage first made, no one had ever been so ill-used as was he. It soon became clear to Michel that his great grief did not come from the loss of his wife, but from the feeling that everybody would know that he had been ill-used. There wasn’t a shopkeeper in his own town, he said, who hadn’t heard of his approaching marriage. And what was he to say when he went back?
‘Just say that you found us so rough and rustic,’ said Michel Voss.
But Urmand knew well that no such saying on his part would be believed.
‘I think I shall go to Lyons,’ said he, ‘and stay there for six months. What’s the business to me? I don’t care for the business.’
There they sat all the morning. Two or three times Peter Veque opened the door, peeped in at them, and then brought down word that the conference was still going on.
‘The master is sitting just over him like,’ said Peter, ‘and they’re as close and loving as birds.’
Marie listened, and said not a word to any one. George had made two or three little attempts during the morning to entice her into some lover-like privacy. But Marie would not be enticed. The man to whom she was betrothed was still in the house; and, though she was quite secure that the betrothals would now be absolutely annulled, still she would not actually entertain another lover till this was done.
At length the door of the long room was opened, and the two men came out. Adrian Urmand, who was the first to be seen in the passage, went at once to his bedroom, and then Michel descended to the little parlour. Marie was at the moment sitting on her stool of authority in the office, from whence she could hear what was said in the parlour. Satisfied with this, she did not come down from her seat. In the parlour was Madame Voss and the Cure, and George, who had seen his father from the front door, at once joined them.
‘Well,’ said Madame Voss, ‘how is it to be?’
‘I’ve arranged that we’re to have a little picnic up the ravine tomorrow,’ said Michel.
‘A picnic!’ said the Cure.
‘I’m all for a picnic,’ said George.
‘A picnic!’ said Madame Voss, ‘and the ground as wet as a sop, and the wind from the mountains enough to cut one in two.’
‘Never mind about the wind. We’ll take coats and umbrellas. It’s better to have some kind of an outing, and then he’ll recover himself.’ Marie, as she heard all this, made up her mind that if any possible store of provisions packed in hampers could bring her late lover round to equanimity, no efforts on her part should be wanting. She would pack up cold chickens and champagne bottles with the greatest pleasure, and would eat her dinner sitting on a rock, even though the wind from the mountains should cut her in two.
‘And so it’s all to end in a picnic,’ said M. le Cure, with evident disgust.
It appeared from Michel’s description of what had taken place during that very long interview that Adrian Urmand had at last become quite gentle and confidential. In what way could he be let down the most easily? That was the question for the answering which these two heads were kept together in conference so long. How could it be made to appear that the betrothal had been annulled by mutual consent? At last the happy idea of a picnic occurred to Michel himself. ‘I never thought about the time of the year,’ he said; ‘but when friends are here and we want to do our best for them, we always take them to the ravine, and have dinners on the rocks.’ It had seemed to him, and as he declared to Urmand also, that if something like a jubilee could be got up before the young man’s departure, it would appear as though there could not have been much disappointment.
‘We shall all catch our death of cold,’ said Madame Voss.
‘We needn’t stay long, you know,’ said Michel. ‘And, Marie,’ said he, going into the little office in which his niece was still seated, ‘Marie, mind you behave yourself.’
‘O, I will, Uncle Michel,’ she said. ‘You shall see.’
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01