Adrian Urmand, in spite of his white hands and his well-combed locks and the silk lining to his coat, had so much of the spirit of a man that he was minded to hold his head well up before the girl whom he wished to make his wife. Michel during that drive from Remiremont had told him that he might probably prevail. Michel had said a thousand things in favour of his niece and not a word to her prejudice; but he had so spoken, or had endeavoured so to speak, as to make Urmand understand that Marie could only be won with difficulty, and that she was perhaps unaccountably averse to the idea of matrimony. ‘She is like a young filly, you know, that starts and plunges when she is touched,’ he had said. ‘You think there is nobody else?’ Urmand had asked. Then Michel Voss had answered with confidence, ‘I am sure there is nobody else.’ Urmand had listened and said very little; but when at supper he saw that the uncle was ruffled in his temper and sat silent with a black brow, that Madame Voss was troubled in spirit, and that Marie dispensed her soup without vouchsafing a look to any one, he felt that it behoved him to do his best, and he did it. He talked freely to Madame Voss, telling her the news from Basle — how at length he thought the French trade was reviving, and how all the Swiss authorities were still opposed to the German occupation of Alsace; and how flax was likely to be dearer than ever he had seen it; and how the travelling English were fewer this year than usual, to the great detriment of the innkeepers. Every now and then he would say a word to Marie herself, as she passed near him, speaking in a cheery tone and striving his best to dispel a black silence which on the present occasion would have been specially lugubrious. Upon the whole he did his work well, and Michel Voss was aware of it; but Marie Bromar entertained no gentle thought respecting him. He was not wanted there, and he ought not to have come. She had given him an answer, and he ought to have taken it. Nothing, she declared to herself, was meaner than a man who would go to a girl’s parents or guardians for support, when the girl herself had told him that she wished to have nothing to do with him. Marie had promised that she would try, but every feeling of her heart was against the struggle.
After supper Michel with his young friend sat some time at the table, for the innkeeper had brought forth a bottle of his best Burgundy in honour of the occasion. When they had eaten their fruit, Madame Voss left the room, and Michel and Adrian were soon alone together. ‘Say nothing to her till tomorrow,’ said Michel in a low voice.
‘I will not,’ said Adrian. ‘I do not wonder that she should be put out of face if she knows why I have come.’
‘Of course she knows. Give her to-night and tomorrow, and we will see how it is to be.’ At this time Marie was up-stairs with the children, resolute that nothing should induce her to go down till she should be sure that their visitor had gone to his chamber. There were many things about the house which it was her custom to see in their place before she went to her rest, and nobody should say that she neglected her work because of this dressed-up doll; but she would wait till she was sure of him — till she was sure of her uncle also. In her present frame of mind she could not have spoken to the doll with ordinary courtesy. What she feared was, that her uncle should seek her up-stairs.
But Michel had some idea that her part in the play was not an easy one, and was minded to spare her for that night. But she had promised to try, and she must be reminded of her promise. Hitherto she certainly had not tried. Hitherto she had been ill-tempered, petulant, and almost rude. He would not see her himself this evening, but he would send a message to her by his wife. ‘Tell her from me that I shall expect to see smiles on her face tomorrow,’ said Michel Voss. And as he spoke there certainly were no smiles on his own.
‘I suppose she is flurried,’ said Madame Voss.
‘Ah, flurried! That may do for to-night. I have been very good to her. Had she been my own, I could not have been kinder. I have loved her just as if she were my own. Of course I look now for the obedience of a child.’
‘She does not mean to be undutiful, Michel.’
‘I do not know about meaning. I like reality, and I will have it too. I consulted herself, and was more forbearing than most fathers would be. I talked to her about it, and she promised me that she would do her best to entertain the man. Now she receives him and me with an old frock and a sulky face. Who pays for her clothes? She has everything she wants — just as a daughter, and she would not take the trouble to change her dress to grace my friend — as you did, as any daughter would! I am angry with her.’
‘Do not be angry with her. I think I can understand why she did not put on another frock.’
‘So can I understand. I can understand well enough. I am not a fool. What is it she wants, I wonder? What is it she expects? Does she think some Count from Paris is to come and fetch her?’
‘Nay, Michel, I think she expects nothing of that sort.’
‘Then let her behave like any other young woman, and do as she is bid. He is not old or ugly, or a sot, or a gambler. Upon my word and honour I can’t conceive what it is that she wants. I can’t indeed.’ It was perhaps the fault of Michel Voss that he could not understand that a young woman should live in the same house with him, and have a want which he did not conceive. Poor Marie! All that she wanted now, at this moment, was to be let alone!
Madame Voss, in obedience to her husband’s commands, went up to Marie and found her sitting in the children’s room, leaning with her head on her hand and her elbow on the table, while the children were asleep around her. She was waiting till the house should be quiet, so that she could go down and complete her work. ‘O, is it you, Aunt Josey?’ she said. ‘I am waiting till uncle and M. Urmand are gone, that I may go down and put away the wine and the fruit.’
‘Never mind that to-night, Marie.’
‘O yes, I will go down presently. I should not be happy if the things were not put straight. Everything is about the house everywhere. We need not, I suppose, become like pigs because M. Urmand has come from Basle.’
‘No; we need not be like pigs,’ said Madame Voss. ‘Come into my room a moment, Marie. I want to speak to you. Your uncle won’t be up yet.’ Then she led the way, and Marie followed her. ‘Your uncle is becoming angry, Marie, because —’
‘Because why? Have I done anything to make him angry?’
‘Why are you so cross to this young man?’
‘I am not cross, Aunt Josey. I went on just the same as I always do. If Uncle Michel wants anything else, that is his fault; — not mine.’
‘Of course you know what he wants, and I must say that you ought to obey him. You gave him a sort of a promise, and now he thinks that you are breaking it.’
‘I gave him no promise,’ said Marie stoutly.
‘He says that you told him that you would at any rate be civil to M. Urmand.’
‘And I have been civil,’ said Marie.
‘You did not speak to him.’
‘I never do speak to anybody,’ said Marie. ‘I have got something to think of instead of talking to the people. How would the things go, if I took to talking to the people, and left everything to that little goose, Peter? Uncle Michel is unreasonable — and unkind.’
‘He means to do the best by you in his power. He wants to treat you just as though you were his daughter.’
‘Then let him leave me alone. I don’t want anything to be done. If I were his daughter he would not grudge me permission to stop at home in his house. I don’t want anything else. I have never complained.’
‘But, my dear, it is time that you should be settled in the world.’
‘I am settled. I don’t want any other settlement — if they will only let me alone.’
‘Marie,’ said Madame Voss after a short pause, ‘I sometimes think that you still have got George Voss in your head.’
‘Is it that, Aunt Josey, that makes my uncle go on like this?’ asked Marie.
‘You do not answer me, child.’
‘I do not know what answer you want. When George was here, I hardly spoke to him. If Uncle Michel is afraid of me, I will give him my solemn promise never to marry any one without his permission.’
‘George Voss will never come back for you,’ said Madame Voss.
‘He will come when I ask him,’ said Marie, flashing round upon her aunt with all the fire of her bright eyes. ‘Does any one say that I have done anything to bring him to me? If so, it is false, whoever says it. I have done nothing. He has gone away, and let him stay. I shall not send for him. Uncle Michel need not be afraid of me, because of George.’
By this time Marie was speaking almost in a fury of passion, and her aunt was almost subdued by her. ‘Nobody is afraid of you, Marie,’ she said.
‘Nobody need be. If they will let me alone, I will do no harm to any one.’
‘But, Marie, you would wish to be married some day.’
‘Why should I wish to be married? If I liked him, I would take him, but I don’t. O, Aunt Josey, I thought you would be my friend!’
‘I cannot be your friend, Marie, if you oppose your uncle. He has done everything for you, and he must know best what is good for you. There can be no reason against M. Urmand, and if you persist in being so unruly, he will only think that it is because you want George to come back for you.’
‘I care nothing for George,’ said Marie, as she left the room; ‘nothing at all — nothing.’
About half-an-hour afterwards, listening at her own door, she heard the sound of her uncle’s feet as he went to his room, and knew that the house was quiet. Then she crept forth, and went about her business. Nobody should say that she neglected anything because of this unhappiness. She brushed the crumbs from the long table, and smoothed the cloth for the next morning’s breakfast; she put away bottles and dishes, and she locked up cupboards, and saw that the windows and the doors were fastened. Then she went down to her books in the little office below stairs. In the performance of her daily duty there were entries to be made and figures to be adjusted, which would have been done in the course of the evening, had it not been that she had been driven upstairs by fear of her lover and her uncle. But by the time that she took herself up to bed, nothing had been omitted. And after the book was closed she sat there, trying to resolve what she would do. Nothing had, perhaps, given her so sharp a pang as her aunt’s assurance that George Voss would not come back to her, as her aunt’s suspicion that she was looking for his return. It was not that she had been deserted, but that others should be able to taunt her with her desolation. She had never whispered the name of George to any one since he had left Granpere, and she thought that she might have been spared this indignity. ‘If he fancies I want to interfere with him,’ she said to herself, thinking of her uncle, and of her uncle’s plans in reference to his son, ‘he will find that he is mistaken.’ Then it occurred to her that she would be driven to accept Adrian Urmand to prove that she was heart-whole in regard to George Voss.
She sat there, thinking of it till the night was half-spent, and when she crept up cold to bed, she had almost made up her mind that it would be best for her to do as her uncle wished. As for loving the man, that was out of the question. But then would it not be better to do without love altogether?
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01