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- The Golden Lion of Granpere - 10/36 -
'It is true at any rate, I suppose.'
'Not that I know of. If my uncle and aunt choose to dispose of me, I cannot help it.'
'It is well for girls to be disposed of sometimes. It saves them a world of trouble.'
'I don't know what you mean by that, George;--whether it is intended to be ill-natured.'
'No, indeed. Why should I be ill-natured to you? I heartily wish you to be well and happy. I daresay M. Urmand will make you a good husband. Good-bye, Marie. I shall be off in a few minutes. Will you not say farewell to me?'
'We used to be friends, Marie.'
'Yes;--we used to be friends.'
'And I have never forgotten the old days. I will not promise to come to your marriage, because it would not make either of us happy, but I shall wish you well. God bless you, Marie.' Then he put his arm round her and kissed her, as he might have done to a sister,--as it was natural that he should do to Marie Bromar, regarding her as a cousin. She did not speak a word more, and then he was gone!
She had been quite unable to tell him the truth. The manner in which he had first addressed her made it impossible for her to tell him that she was not engaged to marry Adrian Urmand,--that she was determined, if possible, to avoid the marriage, and that she had no love for Adrian Urmand. Had she done so, she would in so doing have asked him to come back to her. That she should do this was impossible. And yet as he left her, some suspicion of the truth, some half-formed idea of the real state of the man's mind in reference to her, flashed across her own. She seemed to feel that she was specially unfortunate, but she felt at the same time that there was no means within her reach of setting things right. And she was as convinced as ever she had been, that her uncle would never give his consent to a marriage between her and George Voss. As for George himself, he left her with an assured conviction that she was the promised bride of Adrian Urmand.
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.
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