The old-fashioned inn at Colmar, at which George Voss was acting as assistant and chief manager to his father’s distant cousin, Madame Faragon, was a house very different in all its belongings from the Lion d’Or at Granpere. It was very much larger, and had much higher pretensions. It assumed to itself the character of a first-class hotel; and when Colmar was without a railway, and was a great posting-station on the high road from Strasbourg to Lyons, there was some real business at the Hotel de la Poste in that town. At present, though Colmar may probably have been benefited by the railway, the inn has faded, and is in its yellow leaf. Travellers who desire to see the statue which a grateful city has erected to the memory of its most illustrious citizen, General Rapp, are not sufficient in number to keep a first-class hotel in the glories of fresh paint and smart waiters; and when you have done with General Rapp, there is not much to interest you in Colmar. But there is the hotel; and poor fat, unwieldy Madame Faragon, though she grumbles much, and declares that there is not a sou to be made, still keeps it up, and bears with as much bravery as she can the buffets of a world which seems to her to be becoming less prosperous and less comfortable and more exacting every day. In her younger years, a posting-house in such a town was a posting-house; and when M. Faragon married her, the heiress of the then owner of the business, he was supposed to have done uncommonly well for himself. Madame Faragon is now a childless widow, and sometimes declares that she will shut the house up and have done with it. Why maintain a business without a profit, simply that there may be an Hotel de la Poste at Colmar? But there are old servants whom she has not the heart to send away; and she has at any rate a roof of her own over her head; and though she herself is unconscious that it is so, she has many ties to the old business; and now, since her young cousin George Voss has been with her, things go a little better. She is not robbed so much, and the people of the town, finding that they can get a fair bottle of wine and a good supper, come to the inn; and at length an omnibus has been established, and there is a little glimmer of returning prosperity.
It is a large old rambling house, built round an irregularly-shaped court, with another court behind it; and in both courts the stables and coach-houses seem to be so mixed with the kitchens and entrances, that one hardly knows what part of the building is equine and what part human. Judging from the smell which pervades the lower quarters, and, alas, also too frequently the upper rooms, one would be inclined to say that the horses had the best of it. The defect had been pointed out to Madame Faragon more than once; but that lady, though in most of the affairs of life her temper is gentle and kindly, cannot hear with equanimity an insinuation that any portion of her house is either dirty or unsweet. Complaints have reached her that the beds were — well, inhabited — but no servant now dares to hint at anything wrong in this particular. If this traveller or that says a word to her personally in complaint, she looks as sour as death, and declines to open her mouth in reply; but when that traveller’s back is turned, the things that Madame Faragon can say about the upstart coxcombry of the wretch, and as to the want of all real comforts which she is sure prevails in the home quarters of that ill-starred complaining traveller, are proof to those who hear them that the old landlady has not as yet lost all her energy. It need not be doubted that she herself religiously believes that no foul perfume has ever pervaded the sanctity of her chambers, and that no living thing has ever been seen inside the sheets of her beds, except those guests whom she has allocated to the different rooms.
Matters had not gone very easily with George Voss in all the changes he had made during the last year. Some things he was obliged to do without consulting Madame Faragon at all. Then she would discover what was going on, and there would be a ‘few words.’ At other times he would consult her, and carry his purpose only after much perseverance. Twice or thrice he had told her that he must go away, and then with many groans she had acceded to his propositions. It had been necessary to expend two thousand francs in establishing the omnibus, and in that affair the appearance of things had been at one time quite hopeless. And then when George had declared that the altered habits of the people required that the hour of the morning table-d’hote should be changed from noon to one, she had sworn that she would not give way. She would never lend her assent to such vile idleness. It was already robbing the business portion of the day of an hour. She would wrap her colours round her and die upon the ground sooner than yield. ‘Then they won’t come,’ said George, ‘and it’s no use you having the table then. They will all go to the Hotel de l’Imperatrice.’ This was a new house, the very mention of which was a dagger-thrust into the bosom of Madame Faragon. ‘Then they will be poisoned,’ she said. ‘And let them! It is what they are fit for.’ But the change was made, and for the first three days she would not come out of her room. When the bell was rung at the obnoxious hour, she stopped her ears with her two hands.
But though there had been these contests, Madame Faragon had made more than one effort to induce George Voss to become her partner and successor in the house. If he would only bring in a small sum of money — a sum which must be easily within his father’s reach — he should have half the business now, and all of it when Madame Faragon had gone to her rest. Or if he would prefer to give Madame Faragon a pension — a moderate pension — she would give up the house at once. At these tender moments she used to say that he probably would not begrudge her a room in which to die. But George Voss would always say that he had no money, that he could not ask his father for money, and that he had not made up his mind to settle at Colmar. Madame Faragon, who was naturally much interested in the matter, and was moreover not without curiosity, could never quite learn how matters stood at Granpere. A word or two she had heard in a circuitous way of Marie Bromar, but from George himself she could never learn anything of his affairs at home. She had asked him once or twice whether it would not be well that he should marry, but he had always replied that he did not think of such a thing — at any rate as yet. He was a steady young man, given more to work than to play, and apparently not inclined to amuse himself with the girls of the neighbourhood.
One day Edmond Greisse was over at Colmar — Edmond Greisse, the lad whose untidy appearance at the supper-table at the Lion d’Or had called down the rebuke of Marie Bromar. He had been sent over on some business by his employer, and had come to get his supper and bed at Madame Faragon’s hotel. He was a modest, unassuming lad, and had been hardly more than a boy when George Voss had left Granpere. From time to time George had seen some friend from the village, and had thus heard tidings from home. Once, as has been said, Madame Voss had made a pilgrimage to Madame Faragon’s establishment to visit him; but letters between the houses had not been frequent. Though postage in France — or shall we say Germany? — is now almost as low as in England, these people of Alsace have not yet fallen into the way of writing to each other when it occurs to any of them that a word may be said. Young Greisse had seen the landlady, who now never went upstairs among her guests, and had had his chamber allotted to him, and was seated at the supper-table, before he met George Voss. It was from Madame Faragon that George heard of his arrival.
‘There is a neighbour of yours from Granpere in the house,’ said she.
‘From Granpere? And who is he?’
‘I forget the lad’s name; but he says that your father is well, and Madame Voss. He goes back early tomorrow with the roulage and some goods that his people have bought. I think he is at supper now.’
The place of honour at the top of the table at the Colmar inn was not in these days assumed by Madame Faragon. She had, alas, become too stout to do so with either grace or comfort, and always took her meals, as she always lived, in the little room downstairs, from which she could see, through the apertures of two doors, all who came in and all who went out by the chief entrance of the hotel. Nor had George usurped the place. It had now happened at Colmar, as it has come to pass at most hotels, that the public table is no longer the table-d’hote. The end chair was occupied by a stout, dark man, with a bald head and black beard, who was proudly filling a place different from that of his neighbours, and who would probably have gone over to the Hotel de l’Imperatrice had anybody disturbed him. On the present occasion George seated himself next to the lad, and they were soon discussing all the news from Granpere.
‘And how is Marie Bromar?’ George asked at last.
‘You have heard about her, of course,’ said Edmond Greisse.
‘She is going to be married.’
‘Minnie Bromar to be married? And to whom?’
Edmond at once understood that his news was regarded as being important, and made the most of it.
‘O dear, yes. It was settled last week when he was there.’
‘But who is he?’
‘Adrian Urmand, the linen-buyer from Basle.’
‘Marie to be married to Adrian Urmand?’
Urmand’s journeys to Granpere had been commenced before George Voss had left the place, and therefore the two young men had known each other.
‘They say he’s very rich,’ said Edmond.
‘I thought he cared for nobody but himself. And are you sure? Who told you?’
‘I am quite sure; but I do not know who told me. They are all talking about it.’
‘Did my father ever tell you?’
‘No, he never told me.’
‘Or Marie herself?’
‘No, she did not tell me. Girls never tell those sort of things of themselves.’
‘Nor Madame Voss?’ asked George.
‘She never talks much about anything. But you may be sure it’s true. I’ll tell you who told me first, and he is sure to know, because he lives in the house. It was Peter Veque.’
‘Peter Veque, indeed! And who do you think would tell him?’
‘But isn’t it quite likely? She has grown to be such a beauty! Everybody gives it to her that she is the prettiest girl round Granpere. And why shouldn’t he marry her? If I had a lot of money, I’d only look to get the prettiest girl I could find anywhere.’
After this, George said nothing farther to the young man as to the marriage. If it was talked about as Edmond said, it was probably true. And why should it not be true? Even though it were true, no one would have cared to tell him. She might have been married twice over, and no one in Granpere would have sent him word. So he declared to himself. And yet Marie Bromar had once sworn to him that she loved him, and would be his for ever and ever; and, though he had left her in dudgeon, with black looks, without a kind word of farewell, yet he had believed her. Through all his sojourn at Colmar he had told himself that she would be true to him. He believed it, though he was hardly sure of himself — had hardly resolved that he would ever go back to Granpere to seek her. His father had turned him out of the house, and Marie had told him as he went that she would never marry him if her uncle disapproved it. Slight as her word had been on that morning of his departure, it had rankled in his bosom, and made him angry with her through a whole twelvemonth. And yet he had believed that she would be true to him!
He went out in the evening when it was dusk and walked round and round the public garden of Colmar, thinking of the news which he had heard — the public garden, in which stands the statue of General Rapp. It was a terrible blow to him. Though he had remained a whole year in Colmar without seeing Marie, or hearing of her, without hardly ever having had her name upon his lips, without even having once assured himself during the whole time that the happiness of his life would depend on the girl’s constancy to him — now that he heard that she was to be married to another man, he was torn to pieces by anger and regret. He had sworn to love her, and had never even spoken a word of tenderness to another girl. She had given him her plighted troth, and now she was prepared to break it with the first man who asked her! As he thought of this, his brow became black with anger. But his regrets were as violent. What a fool he had been to leave her there, open to persuasion from any man who came in the way, open to persuasion from his father, who would, of course, be his enemy. How, indeed, could he expect that she should be true to him? The year had been long enough to him, but it must have been doubly long to her. He had expected that his father would send for him, would write to him, would at least transmit to him some word that would make him know that his presence was again desired at Granpere. But his father had been as proud as he was, and had not sent any such message. Or rather, perhaps, the father being older and less impatient, had thought that a temporary absence from Granpere might be good for his son.
It was late at night when George Voss went to bed, but he was up in the morning early to see Edmond Greisse before the roulage should start for Munster on its road to Granpere. Early times in that part of the world are very early, and the roulage was ready in the back court of the inn at half-past four in the morning.
‘What? you up at this hour?’ said Edmond.
‘Why not? It is not every day we have a friend here from Granpere, so I thought I would see you off.’
‘That is kind of you.’
‘Give my love to them at the old house, Edmond.’
‘Of course I will.’
‘To father, and Madame Voss, and the children, and to Marie.’
‘Tell Marie that you have told me of her marriage.’
‘I don’t know whether she’ll like to talk about that to me.’
‘Never mind; you tell her. She won’t bite you. Tell her also that I shall be over at Granpere soon to see her and the rest of them. I’ll be over — as soon as ever I can get away.’
‘Shall I tell your father that?’
‘No. Tell Marie, and let her tell my father.’
‘And when will you come? We shall all be so glad to see you.’
‘Never you mind that. You just give my message. Come in for a moment to the kitchen. There’s a cup of coffee for you and a slice of ham. We are not going to let an old friend like you go away without breaking his fast.’
As Greisse had already paid his modest bill, amounting altogether to little more than three francs, this was kind of the young landlord, and while he was eating his bread and ham he promised faithfully that he would give the message just as George had given it to him.
It was on the third day after the departure of Edmond Greisse that George told Madame Faragon that he was going home.
‘Going where, George?’ said Madame Faragon, leaning forward on the table before her, and looking like a picture of despair.
‘To Granpere, Madame Faragon.’
‘To Granpere! and why? and when? and how? O dear! Why did you not tell me before, child?’
‘I told you as soon as I knew.’
‘But you are not going yet?’
‘O dear! So soon as that! Lord bless me! We can’t do anything before Monday. And when will you be back?’
‘I cannot say with certainty. I shall not be long, I daresay.’
‘And have they sent for you?’
‘No, they have not sent for me, but I want to see them once again. And I must make up my mind what to do for the future.’
‘Don’t leave me, George; pray do not leave me!’ exclaimed Madame Faragon. ‘You shall have the business now if you choose to take it — only pray don’t leave me!’
George explained that at any rate he would not desert her now at once; and on the Monday named he started for Granpere. He had not been very quick in his action, for a week had passed since he had given Edmond Greisse his breakfast in the hotel kitchen.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14