The world seemed very hard to Marie Bromar when she was left alone. Though there were many who loved her, of whose real affection she had no doubt, there was no one to whom she could go for assistance. Her uncle in this matter was her enemy, and her aunt was completely under her uncle’s guidance. Madame Voss spoke to her often in these days of the coming of Adrian Urmand, but the manner of her speaking was such that no comfort could be taken from it. Madame Voss would risk an opinion as to the room which the young man ought to occupy, and the manner in which he should be fed and entertained. For it was thoroughly understood that he was coming on this occasion as a lover and not as a trader, and that he was coming as the guest of Michel Voss, and not as a customer to the inn. ‘I suppose he can take his supper like the other people,’ Marie said to her aunt. And again, when the question of wine was mooted, she was almost saucy. ‘If he’s thirsty,’ she said, ‘what did for him last week, will do for him next week: and if he’s not thirsty, he had better leave it alone.’ But girls are always allowed to be saucy about their lovers, and Madame Voss did not count this for much.
Marie was always thinking of those last words which had been spoken between her and George, and of the kiss that he had given her. ‘We used to be friends,’ he had said, and then he had declared that he had never forgotten old days. Marie was quick, intelligent, and ready to perceive at half a glance — to understand at half a word, as is the way with clever women. A thrill had gone through her as she heard the tone of the young man’s voice, and she had half told herself all the truth. He had not quite ceased to think of her. Then he went, without saying the other one word that would have been needful, without even looking the truth into her face. He had gone, and had plainly given her to understand that he acceded to this marriage with Adrian Urmand. How was she to read it all? Was there more than one way in which a wounded woman, so sore at heart, could read it? He had told her that though he loved her still, it did not suit him to trouble himself with her as a wife; and that he would throw upon her head the guilt of having been false to their old vows. Though she loved him better than all the world, she despised him for his thoughtful treachery. In her eyes it was treachery. He must have known the truth. What right had he to suppose that she would be false to him — he, who had never known her to lie to him? And was it not his business, as a man, to speak some word, to ask some question, by which, if he doubted, the truth might be made known to him? She, a woman, could ask no question. She could speak no word. She could not renew her assurances to him, till he should have asked her to renew them. He was either false, or a traitor, or a coward. She was very angry with him; — so angry that she was almost driven by her anger to throw herself into Adrian’s arms. She was the more angry because she was full sure that he had not forgotten his old love — that his heart was not altogether changed. Had it appeared to her that the sweet words of former days had vanished from his memory, though they had clung to hers — that he had in truth learned to look upon his Granpere experiences as the simple doings of his boyhood — her pride would have been hurt, but she would have been angry with herself rather than with him. But it had not been so. The respectful silence of his sojourn in the house had told her that it was not so. The tremor in his voice as he reminded her that they once had been friends had plainly told her that it was not so. He had acknowledged that they had been betrothed, and that the plight between them was still strong; but, wishing to be quit of it, he had thrown the burden of breaking it upon her.
She was very wretched, but she did not go about the house with downcast eyes or humble looks, or sit idle in a corner with her hands before her. She was quick and eager in the performance of her work, speaking sharply to those who came in contact with her. Peter Veque, her chief minister, had but a poor time of it in these days; and she spoke an angry word or two to Edmond Greisse. She had, in truth, spoken no words to Edmond Greisse that were not angry since that ill-starred communication of which he had only given her the half. To her aunt she was brusque, and almost ill-mannered.
‘What is the matter with you, Marie?’ Madame Voss said to her one morning, when she had been snubbed rather rudely by her niece. Marie in answer shook her head and shrugged her shoulders. ‘If you cannot put on a better look before M. Urmand comes, I think he will hardly hold to his bargain,’ said Madame Voss, who was angry.
‘Who wants him to hold to his bargain?’ said Marie sharply. Then feeling ill-inclined to discuss the matter with her aunt, she left the room. Madame Voss, who had been assured by her husband that Marie had no real objection to Adrian Urmand, did not understand it all.
‘I am sure Marie is unhappy,’ she said to her husband when he came in at noon that day.
‘Yes,’ said he. ‘It seems strange, but it is so, I fancy, with the best of our young women. Her feeling of modesty — of bashfulness if you will — is outraged by being told that she is to admit this man as her lover. She won’t make the worse wife on that account, when he gets her home.’
Madame Voss was not quite sure that her husband was right. She had not before observed young women to be made savage in their daily work by the outrage to their modesty of an acknowledged lover. But, as usual, she submitted to her husband. Had she not done so, there would have come that glance from the corner of his eye, and that curl in his lip, and that gentle breath from his nostril, which had become to her the expression of imperious marital authority. Nothing could be kinder, more truly affectionate, than was the heart of her husband towards her niece. Therefore Madame Voss yielded, and comforted herself by an assurance that as the best was being done for Marie, she need not subject herself to her husband’s displeasure by contradiction or interference.
Michel Voss himself said little or nothing to his niece at this time. She had yielded to him, making him a promise that she would endeavour to accede to his wishes, and he felt that he was bound in honour not to trouble her farther, unless she should show herself to be disobedient when the moment of trial came. He was not himself at ease, he was not comfortable at heart, because he knew that Marie was avoiding him. Though she would still stand behind his chair at supper — when for a moment she would be still — she did not put her hands upon his head, nor did she speak to him more than the nature of her service required. Twice he tried to induce her to sit with them at table, as though to show that her position was altered now that she was about to become a bride; but he was altogether powerless to effect any such change as this. No words that could have been spoken would have induced Marie to seat herself at the table, so well did she understand all that such a change in her habits would have seemed to imply. There was now hardly one person in the supper-room of the hotel who did not instinctively understand the reason which made Michel Voss anxious that his niece should sit down, and that other reason which made her sternly refuse to comply with his request. So, day followed day, and there was but little said between the uncle and the niece, though heretofore — up to a time still within a fortnight of the present day — the whole business of the house had been managed by little whispered conferences between them. ‘I think we’ll do so and so, uncle;’ or, ‘Just you manage it yourself, Marie.’ Such and such-like words had passed every morning and evening, with an understanding between them full and complete. Now each was afraid of the other, and everything was astray.
But Marie was still gentle with the children: when she could be with them for half an hour, she would sit with them on her lap, or clustering round, kissing them and saying soft words to them — even softer in her affection than had been her wont. They understood as well as everybody else that something was wrong — that there was to be some change as to Marie which perhaps would not be a change for the better; that there was cause for melancholy, for close kissing as though such kissing were in preparation for parting, and for soft strokings with their little hands as though Marie were to be pitied for that which was about to come upon her. ‘Isn’t somebody coming to take you away?’ little Michel asked her, when they were quite alone. Marie had not known how to answer him. She had therefore embraced him closely, and a tear fell upon his face. ‘Ah,’ he said, ‘I know somebody is coming to take you away. Will not papa help you?’ She had not spoken; but for the moment she had taken courage, and had resolved that she would help herself.
At length the day was there on which Adrian Urmand was to come. It was his purpose to travel by Mulhouse and Remiremont, and Michel Voss drove over to the latter town to fetch him. It was felt by every one — it could not be but felt — that there was something special in his coming. His arrival now was not like the arrival of any one else. Marie, with all her resolution that it should be like usual arrivals at the inn, could not avoid the making of some difference herself. A better supper was prepared than usual; and, at the last moment, she herself assisted in preparing it. The young men clustered round the door of the hotel earlier than usual to welcome the new-comer. M. le Cure was there with a clean white collar, and with his best hat. Madame Voss had changed her gown, and appeared in her own little room before her husband returned almost in her Sunday apparel. She had said a doubtful word to Marie, suggesting a clean ribbon, or an altered frill. Marie had replied only by a look. She would not have changed a pin for Urmand’s coming, had all Granpere come round her to tell her that it was needful. If the man wanted more to eat than was customary, let him have it. It was not for her to measure her uncle’s hospitality. But her ribbons and her pins were her own.
The carriage was driving up to the door, and Michel with his young friend descended among the circle of expectant admirers. Urmand was rich, always well dressed, and now he was to be successful in love. He had about him a look as of a successful prosperous lover, as he jumped out of the little carriage with his portmanteau in his hand, and his greatcoat with its silk linings open at the breast. There was a consciousness in him and in every one there that he had not come now to buy linen. He made his way into the little room where Madame Voss was standing up, waiting for him, and was taken by the hand by her. Michel Voss soon followed them.
‘And where is Marie?’ Michel asked.
An answer came from some one that Marie was upstairs. Supper would soon be ready, and Marie was busy. Then Michel sent up an order by Peter that Marie should come down. But Marie did not come down. ‘She had gone to her own room,’ Peter said. Then there came a frown on Michel’s brow. Marie had promised to try, and this was not trying. He said no more till they went up to supper. There was Marie standing as usual at the soup tureen. Urmand walked up to her, and they touched each other’s hand; but Marie said never a word. The frown on Michel’s brow was very black, but Marie went on dispensing her soup.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14