He had been sent to Paris to see something of the world, and learn to talk French instead of the patois of his valley; and having left Paris had come down south into Languedoc, and remained there picking up some agricultural lore which it was thought might prove useful in the valley farms of Vernet. That she was kind and gracious to her favourite child does not perhaps give much proof of her benevolence; but she had also been kind and gracious to the orphan child of a neighbour; nay, to the orphan child of a rival innkeeper. At Vernet there had been more than one water establishment, but the proprietor of the second had died some few years after Madame Bauche had settled herself at the place.
His house had not thrived, and his only child, a little girl, was left altogether without provision. But since then she had thoroughly done the duty of a mother by the little girl, who had become the pet of the whole establishment, the favourite plaything of Adolphe Bauche, and at last of course his early sweetheart. And then and therefore there had come troubles at Vernet. Of course all the world of the valley had seen what was taking place and what was likely to take place, long before Madame Bauche knew anything about it.
But at last it broke upon her senses that her son, Adolphe Bauche, the heir to all her virtues and all her riches, the first young man in that or any neighbouring valley, was absolutely contemplating the idea of marrying that poor little orphan, Marie Clavert! That any one should ever fall in love with Marie Clavert had never occurred to Madame Bauche.
She had always regarded the child as a child, as the object of her charity, and as a little thing to be looked on as poor Marie by all the world.
La Mere Bauche
She, looking through her green spectacles, had never seen that Marie Clavert was a beautiful creature, full of ripening charms, such as young men love to look on. Marie was of infinite daily use to Madame Bauche in a hundred little things about the house, and the old lady thoroughly recognised and appreciated her ability. But for this very reason she had never taught herself to regard Marie otherwise than as a useful drudge. But unluckily it had not been thrown away upon Adolphe. He had appreciated, as it was natural that he should do, all that had been so utterly indifferent to his mother; and consequently had fallen in love.
Consequently also he had told his love; and consequently also Marie had returned his love. Adolphe had been hitherto contradicted but in few things, and thought that all difficulty would be prevented by his informing his mother that he wished to marry Marie Clavert.
The indignation and passionate wrath of Madame Bauche were past and gone two years before the date of this story, and I need not therefore much enlarge upon that subject. She was at first abusive and bitter, which was bad for Marie; and afterwards bitter and silent, which was worse. It was of course determined that poor Marie should be sent away to some asylum for orphans or penniless paupers — in short anywhere out of the way. What mattered her outlook into the world, her happiness, or indeed her very existence? The outlook and happiness of Adolphe Bauche — was not that to be considered as everything at Vernet?
But this terrible sharp aspect of affairs did not last very long. In the first place La Mere Bauche had under those green spectacles a heart that in truth was tender and affectionate, and after the first two days of anger she admitted that something must be done for Marie Clavert; and after the fourth day she acknowledged that the world of the hotel, her world, would not go as well without Marie Clavert as it would with her.
And in the next place Madame Bauche had a friend whose advice in grave matters she would sometimes take. This friend had told her that it would be much better to send away Adolphe, since it was so necessary that there should be a sending away of some one; that he would be much benefited by passing some months of his life away from his native valley; and that an absence of a year or two would teach him to forget Marie, even if it did not teach Marie to forget him. And we must say a word or two about this friend. At Vernet he was usually called M. He had been in the army, and having been wounded in the leg while still a sous-lieutenant, had been pensioned, and had thus been interdicted from treading any further the thorny path that leads to glory.
For the last fifteen years he had resided under the roof of Madame Bauche, at first as a casual visitor, going and coming, but now for many years as constant there as she was herself. He was so constantly called Le Capitaine that his real name was seldom heard. It may however as well be known to us that this was Theodore Campan. He was a tall, well-looking man; always dressed in black garments, of a coarse description certainly, but scrupulously clean and well brushed; of perhaps fifty years of age, and conspicuous for the rigid uprightness of his back — and for a black wooden leg.
This wooden leg was perhaps the most remarkable trait in his character. It was always jet black, being painted, or polished, or japanned, as occasion might require, by the hands of the capitaine himself. It was longer than ordinary wooden legs, as indeed the capitaine was longer than ordinary men; but nevertheless it never seemed in any way to impede the rigid punctilious propriety of his movements.
It was never in his way as wooden legs usually are in the way of their wearers. And then to render it more illustrious it had round its middle, round the calf of the leg we may so say, a band of bright brass which shone like burnished gold. I have said that there was never eating or drinking at the establishment after the regular dinner-hours; but in so saying I spoke of the world at large. Nothing further was allowed in the way of trade; but in the way of friendship so much was now-a-days always allowed to the capitaine.
It was at these moments that Madame Bauche discussed her private affairs, and asked for and received advice. For even Madame Bauche was mortal; nor could her green spectacles without other aid carry her through all the troubles of life. It was now five years since the world of Vernet discovered that La Mere Bauche was going to marry the capitaine; and for eighteen months the world of Vernet had been full of this matter: But she, though she thought of no matrimony for herself, thought much of matrimony for other people; and over most of those cups of evening coffee and cognac a matrimonial project was discussed in these latter days.
The truth of this the capitaine had admitted; but Marie, he said, might be married to some one else before two years were over. And so the matter had commenced. But to whom should she be married? To this question the capitaine had answered in perfect innocence of heart, that La Mere Bauche would be much better able to make such a choice than himself.
He did not know how Marie might stand with regard to money. All these things took months to say, during which period Marie went on with her work in melancholy listlessness. One comfort she had. Adolphe, before he went, had promised to her, holding in his hand as he did so a little cross which she had given him, that no earthly consideration should sever them; — that sooner or later he would certainly be her husband.
Marie felt that her limbs could not work nor her tongue speak were it not for this one drop of water in her cup. And then, deeply meditating, La Mere Bauche hit upon a plan, and herself communicated it to the capitaine over a second cup of coffee into which she poured a full teaspoonful more than the usual allowance of cognac. Why should not he, the capitaine himself, be the man to marry Marie Clavert? As to that matter of dowry she was prepared to be more than generous.
She did love Marie well, and could find it in her heart to give her anything — any thing except her son, her own Adolphe. What she proposed was this. Adolphe, himself, would never keep the baths. The plan was discussed a thousand times, and at last so far brought to bear that Marie was made acquainted with it — having been called in to sit in presence with La Mere Bauche and her future proposed husband.
The poor girl manifested no disgust to the stiff ungainly lover whom they assigned to her — who through his whole frame was in appearance almost as wooden as his own leg. On the whole, indeed, Marie liked the capitaine, and felt that he was her friend; and in her country such marriages were not uncommon. The capitaine was perhaps a little beyond the age at which a man might usually be thought justified in demanding the services of a young girl as his nurse and wife, but then Marie of herself had so little to give — except her youth, and beauty, and goodness.
But yet she could not absolutely consent; for was she not absolutely pledged to her own Adolphe? And therefore, when the great pecuniary advantages were, one by one, displayed before her, and when La Mere Bauche, as a last argument, informed her that as wife of the capitaine she would be regarded as second mistress in the establishment and not as a servant, she could only burst out into tears, and say that she did not know. Marie took his hard withered hand and kissed it; and then looked up into his face with beseeching eyes which were not without avail upon his heart.
But let his heart be touched ever so much, one thing was certain. It could not be permitted that she should marry Adolphe. To that view of the matter he had given in his unrestricted adhesion; nor could he by any means withdraw it without losing altogether his position in the establishment of Madame Bauche. Nor indeed did his conscience tell him that such a marriage should be permitted. That would be too much. If every pretty girl were allowed to marry the first young man that might fall in love with her, what would the world come to? And it soon appeared that there was not time enough — that the time was growing very scant.
In three months Adolphe would be back. And if everything was not arranged by that time, matters might still go astray. And then Madame Bauche asked her final question: Marie could only answer by another burst of tears. The affair was at last settled among them. She declared with many tears that her vows and pledges prevented her from promising more than this. It was not her fault, at any rate not now, that she loved her lover. It was not her fault — not now at least — that she was bound by these pledges. When she heard from his own mouth that he had discarded her, then she would marry the capitaine — or indeed sacrifice herself in any other way that La Mere Bauche might desire.
What would anything signify then? Marie, she told the capitaine, should be equal to herself in the establishment, when once she was entitled to be called Madame Campan, and she should be to her quite as a daughter. She should have her cup of coffee every evening, and dine at the big table, and wear a silk gown at church, and the servants should all call her Madame; a great career should be open to her, if she would only give up her foolish girlish childish love for Adolphe. And all these great promises were repeated to Marie by the capitaine. Without that she would be nothing; with that — with that assured, she could wait patiently till doomsday.
He consented to her marriage with the capitaine, and expressed his gratitude to his mother for the pecuniary advantages which she had held out to him. This letter was read to Marie, but it had no more effect upon her than would have had some dry legal document. In those days and in those places men and women did not depend much upon letters; nor when they were written, was there expressed in them much of heart or of feeling.
But from that stiff constrained written document she could understand nothing. It was agreed therefore that Adolphe should return, and that she would accept her fate from his mouth. The capitaine, who knew more of human nature than poor Marie, felt tolerably sure of his bride. Adolphe, who had seen something of the world, would not care very much for the girl of his own valley. Money and pleasure, and some little position in the world, would soon wean him from his love; and then Marie would accept her destiny — as other girls in the same position had done since the French world began.
La Mere Bauche was discussing the matter with the capitaine over the usual cup of coffee. Madame Bauche had of late become rather nervous on the matter, thinking that they had been somewhat rash in acceding so much to Marie. It seemed to her that it was absolutely now left to the two young lovers to say whether or no they would have each other or not. Her decree and resolve was to heap down blessings on all persons concerned — provided always that she could have her own way; but, provided she did not have her own way, to heap down — anything but blessings.
She had her code of morality in this matter.
She would do good if possible to everybody around her. But she would not on any score be induced to consent that Adolphe should marry Marie Clavert. Should that be in the wind she would rid the house of Marie, of the capitaine, and even of Adolphe himself. She had become therefore somewhat querulous, and self-opinionated in her discussions with her friend.
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It may be all right; but if Adolphe turns against me, what are we to do then? La Mere herself observed it, and did not quite like it; but how could she prevent it now? When the capitaine was once married she would make him know his place, in spite of all her promises to Marie. He has not been away two years without seeing girls as pretty as Marie.
And then you have his letter. He has not a sous in the world unless I give it to him. That is the folly of a boy, and Adolphe will be no longer a boy. Believe me, Mere Bauche, things will be right enough. This was not flattering to the capitaine, and so he felt it. It is a malady which rarely kills young women — especially when another alliance awaits them. He shrugged his shoulders, took a pinch of snuff and uninvited helped himself to a teaspoonful of cognac.
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Then the conference ended, and on the next morning before breakfast Adolphe Bauche arrived. On that morning poor Marie hardly knew how to bear herself. A month or two back, and even up to the last day or two, she had felt a sort of confidence that Adolphe would be true to her; but the nearer came that fatal day the less strong was the confidence of the poor girl. She knew that those two long-headed, aged counsellors were plotting against her happiness, and she felt that she could hardly dare hope for success with such terrible foes opposed to her.
On the evening before the day Madame Bauche had met her in the passages, and kissed her as she wished her good night. Marie knew little about sacrifices, but she felt that it was a sacrificial kiss. In those days a sort of diligence with the mails for Olette passed through Prades early in the morning, and a conveyance was sent from Vernet to bring Adolphe to the baths.
Never was prince or princess expected with more anxiety. Madame Bauche was up and dressed long before the hour, and was heard to say five several times that she was sure he would not come. The capitaine was out and on the high road, moving about with his wooden leg, as perpendicular as a lamp-post and almost as black. Marie also was up, but nobody had seen her. She was up and had been out about the place before any of them were stirring; but now that the world was on the move she lay hidden like a hare in its form.
He was fatter and fairer than she had last seen him, had a larger beard, was more fashionably clothed, and certainly looked more like a man. Marie also saw him out of her little window, and she thought that he looked like a god. Was it probable, she said to herself, that one so godlike would still care for her?
The mother was delighted with her son, who rattled away quite at his ease. And so they entered the house, and went in to breakfast among the guests.
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Everybody had heard something of the story, and they were all on the alert to see the young man whose love or want of love was considered to be of so much importance. And then they all went to breakfast with many signs of outward joy. And not without some inward joy; for Madame Bauche thought she saw that her son was cured of his love.
In the mean time Marie sat up stairs still afraid to show herself. Marie in her heart of hearts wished that he was not half so beautiful, as then her chance of having him might be greater. Why not, if he were really true to her? Alas, it began to fall upon her mind that he would be false! What should she do then?
She sat still gloomily, thinking of that other spouse that had been promised to her.
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She had much debated in her own mind whether the capitaine should be invited to this conference or no. For many reasons she would have wished to exclude him. She did not like to teach her son that she was unable to manage her own affairs, and she would have been well pleased to make the capitaine understand that his assistance was not absolutely necessary to her. But then she had an inward fear that her green spectacles would not now be as efficacious on Adolphe, as they had once been, in old days, before he had seen the world and become a man.
It might be necessary that her son, being a man, should be opposed by a man. So the capitaine was invited to the conference. What took place there need not be described at length. The three were closeted for two hours, at the end of which time they came forth together. The countenance of Madame Bauche was serene and comfortable; her hopes of ultimate success ran higher than ever. The face of the capitaine was masked, as are always the faces of great diplomatists; he walked placid and upright, raising his wooden leg with an ease and skill that was absolutely marvellous.
But La Mere Bauche explained to him that it was a part of the general agreement that Marie was to hear his decision from his own mouth. Only she has some childish idea that she is bound till you yourself release her. And where should the meeting take place? In the hall of the bath- house, suggested Madame Bauche; because, as she observed, they could walk round and round, and nobody ever went there at that time of day. But to this Adolphe objected; it would be so cold and dismal and melancholy. They might be overheard, as she well knew; and she guessed that the meeting would not conclude without some sobs that would certainly be bitter and might perhaps be loud.
On this therefore they agreed. Now the grotto was a natural excavation in a high rock, which stood precipitously upright over the establishment of the baths. A steep zigzag path with almost never- ending steps had been made along the face of the rock from a little flower garden attached to the house which lay immediately under the mountain. Close along the front of the hotel ran a little brawling river, leaving barely room for a road between it and the door; over this there was a wooden bridge leading to the garden, and some two or three hundred yards from the bridge began the steps by which the ascent was made to the grotto.
When the season was full and the weather perfectly warm the place was much frequented. There was a green table in it, and four or five deal chairs; a green garden seat also was there, which however had been removed into the innermost back corner of the excavation, as its hinder legs were somewhat at fault.
A wall about two feet high ran along the face of it, guarding its occupants from the precipice. In fact it was no grotto, but a little chasm in the rock, such as we often see up above our heads in rocky valleys, and which by means of these steep steps had been turned into a source of exercise and amusement for the visitors at the hotel. And so Madame Bauche undertook to send Marie up to the grotto, and Adolphe undertook to follow her thither.
It was now spring; and though the winds had fallen and the snow was no longer lying on the lower peaks, still the air was fresh and cold, and there was no danger that any of the few guests at the establishment would visit the place. La Mere Bauche pished and pshawed, as though she were not minded to pay any attention to recommendations on such subjects from the capitaine.
But nevertheless when Marie was seen slowly to creep across the little bridge about fifteen minutes after this time, she had a handkerchief on her head, and was closely wrapped in a dark brown cloak. Poor Marie herself little heeded the cold fresh air, but she was glad to avail herself of any means by which she might hide her face. When Madame Bauche sought her out in her own little room, and with a smiling face and kind kiss bade her go to the grotto, she knew, or fancied that she knew that it was all over.
But you must remember what Monsieur le Cure told us the other day. In this vale of tears we cannot have everything; as we shall have some day, when our poor wicked souls have been purged of all their wickedness. Now go, dear, and take your cloak. Adolphe had gone out of the house before her; but standing in the stable yard, well within the gate so that she should not see him, he watched her slowly crossing the bridge and mounting the first flight of the steps. He had often seen her tripping up those stairs, and had, almost as often, followed her with his quicker feet.
And she, when she would hear him, would run; and then he would catch her breathless at the top, and steal kisses from her when all power of refusing them had been robbed from her by her efforts at escape. There was no such running now, no such following, no thought of such kisses. As for him, he would fain have skulked off and shirked the interview had he dared.
But he did not dare; so he waited there, out of heart, for some ten minutes, speaking a word now and then to the bath-man, who was standing by, just to show that he was at his ease. But the bath-man knew that he was not at his ease. Such would-be lies as those rarely achieve deception; — are rarely believed. Marie had watched him from the top, but so that she herself should not be seen.
He however had not once lifted up his head to look for her; but with eyes turned to the ground had plodded his way up to the cave. When he entered she was standing in the middle, with her eyes downcast and her hands clasped before her. She had retired some way from the wall, so that no eyes might possibly see her but those of her false lover. There she stood when he entered, striving to stand motionless, but trembling like a leaf in every limb. It was only when he reached the top step that he made up his mind how he would behave.
Perhaps after all, the capitaine was right; perhaps she would not mind it. But only his hand! He offered her no salute. He did not even kiss her cheek as a brother would have done! Of the rules of the outside world it must be remembered that poor Marie knew but little. He had been a brother to her before he had become her lover.
I never knew such a piece of work. However, it is all for the best, I suppose. And then there was silence between them for a minute or so. It seems quite clear that we can never get ourselves married. She took three steps backwards and leant against the wall of the cave. She also was trying to think how she might best fight her battle. Was there no chance for her? Could no eloquence, no love prevail?
On her own beauty she counted but little; but might not prayers do something, and a reference to those old vows which had been so frequent, so eager, so solemnly pledged between them? Can we never be married? We must decide now — to-day. As for me, I shall come and see you all from time to time, and shall be able to push my way as I ought to do.
Suppose I was to go down to my mother and tell her that I had decided to keep you myself; what would come of it? Look at it in that light, Marie. She came up to him and took his right hand between both of hers and pressed it warmly, oh, so warmly. Do not let them teach you so. What does love mean, if it does not mean that?
Oh, Adolphe, you do love me, you do love me, you do love me? And then his arm crept slowly round her waist, as though in that also he could not help himself. Adolphe, I so love you, that I cannot give you up. Have I not sworn to be yours; sworn, sworn a thousand times? How can I marry that man! Oh Adolphe how can you wish that I should marry him? It was hard to tell her that he was willing to sacrifice her to the old man because he wanted money from his mother.
But Adolphe, do not wish it at all!
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Have you not sworn that I should be your wife? Find out more about OverDrive accounts. Subjects Classic Literature Fiction. Anthony Trollope was one of the most successful, prolific and respected English novelists of the Victorian era. He wrote penetrating novels on political, social, and gender issues and conflicts of his day. After he lost, he concentrated entirely on his literary career. While continuing to produce novels rapidly, he also edited the St Paul's Magazine, which published several of his novels in serial form. His first major success came with The Warden - the first of six novels set in the fictional county of Barsetshire.