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'I wish, I could lodge you more conveniently, Monsieur,' said He; 'But we cannot boast of much spare room in this hovel. However, a chamber for yourself, and another for your Servant, I think, we can make shift to supply. You must content yourself with sorry fare; But to what we have, believe me, you are heartily welcome.' ----Then turning to his wife--'Why, how you sit there, Marguerite, with as much tranquillity as if you had nothing better to do! Stir about, Dame! Stir about! Get some supper; Look out some sheets; Here, here; throw some logs upon the fire, for the Gentleman seems perished with cold.'
The Wife threw her work hastily upon the Table, and proceeded to execute his commands with every mark of unwillingness. Her countenance had displeased me on the first moment of my examining it. Yet upon the whole her features were handsome unquestionably; But her skin was sallow, and her person thin and meagre; A louring gloom over-spread her countenance; and it bore such visible marks of rancour and ill-will, as could not escape being noticed by the most inattentive Observer. Her every look and action expressed discontent and impatience, and the answers which She gave Baptiste, when He reproached her good-humouredly for her dissatisfied air, were tart, short, and cutting. In fine, I conceived at first sight equal disgust for her, and prepossession in favour of her Husband, whose appearance was calculated to inspire esteem and confidence. His countenance was open, sincere, and friendly; his manners had all the Peasant's honesty unaccompanied by his rudeness; His cheeks were broad, full, and ruddy; and in the solidity of his person He seemed to offer an ample apology for the leanness of his Wife's. From the wrinkles on his brow I judged him to be turned of sixty; But He bore his years well, and seemed still hearty and strong: The Wife could not be more than thirty, but in spirits and vivacity She was infinitely older than the Husband.
However, in spite of her unwillingness, Marguerite began to prepare the supper, while the Wood-man conversed gaily on different subjects. The Postillion, who had been furnished with a bottle of spirits, was now ready to set out for Strasbourg, and enquired, whether I had any further commands.
'For Strasbourg?' interrupted Baptiste; 'You are not going thither tonight?'
'I beg your pardon: If I do not fetch Workmen to mend the Chaise, How is Monsieur to proceed tomorrow?'
'That is true, as you say; I had forgotten the Chaise. Well, but Claude; You may at least eat your supper here? That can make you lose very little time, and Monsieur looks too kind-hearted to send you out with an empty stomach on such a bitter cold night as this is.'
To this I readily assented, telling the Postillion that my reaching Strasbourg the next day an hour or two later would be perfectly immaterial. He thanked me, and then leaving the Cottage with Stephano, put up his Horses in the Wood-man's Stable. Baptiste followed them to the door, and looked out with anxiety.
' 'Tis a sharp biting wind!' said He; 'I wonder, what detains my Boys so long! Monsieur, I shall show you two of the finest Lads, that ever stept in shoe of leather. The eldest is three and twenty, the second a year younger: Their Equals for sense, courage, and activity, are not to be found within fifty miles of Strasbourg. Would They were back again! I begin to feel uneasy about them.'
Marguerite was at this time employed in laying the cloth.
'And are you equally anxious for the return of your Sons?' said I to her.
'Not I!' She replied peevishly; 'They are no children of mine.'
'Come! Come, Marguerite!' said the Husband; 'Do not be out of humour with the Gentleman for asking a simple question. Had you not looked so cross, He would never have thought you old enough to have a Son of three and twenty: But you see how many years ill-temper adds to you!--Excuse my Wife's rudeness, Monsieur. A little thing puts her out, and She is somewhat displeased at your not thinking her to be under thirty. That is the truth, is it not, Marguerite? You know, Monsieur, that Age is always a ticklish subject with a Woman. Come! come! Marguerite, clear up a little. If you have not Sons as old, you will some twenty years hence, and I hope, that we shall live to see them just such Lads as Jacques and Robert.'
Marguerite clasped her hands together passionately.
'God forbid!' said She; 'God forbid! If I thought it, I would strangle them with my own hands!'
She quitted the room hastily, and went up stairs.
I could not help expressing to the Wood-man how much I pitied him for being chained for life to a Partner of such ill-humour.
'Ah! Lord! Monsieur, Every one has his share of grievances, and Marguerite has fallen to mine. Besides, after all She is only cross, and not malicious. The worst is, that her affection for two children by a former Husband makes her play the Step-mother with my two Sons. She cannot bear the sight of them, and by her good-will they would never set a foot within my door. But on this point I always stand firm, and never will consent to abandon the poor Lads to the world's mercy, as She has often solicited me to do. In every thing else I let her have her own way; and truly She manages a family rarely, that I must say for her.'
We were conversing in this manner, when our discourse was interrupted by a loud halloo, which rang through the Forest.
'My Sons, I hope!' exclaimed the Wood-man, and ran to open the door.
The halloo was repeated: We now distinguished the trampling of Horses, and soon after a Carriage, attended by several Cavaliers stopped at the Cottage door. One of the Horsemen enquired how far they were still from Strasbourg. As He addressed himself to me, I answered in the number of miles which Claude had told me; Upon which a volley of curses was vented against the Drivers for having lost their way. The Persons in the Coach were now informed of the distance of Strasbourg, and also that the Horses were so fatigued as to be incapable of proceeding further. A Lady, who appeared to be the principal, expressed much chagrin at this intelligence; But as there was no remedy, one of the Attendants asked the Wood-man, whether He could furnish them with lodging for the night.
He seemed much embarrassed, and replied in the negative; Adding that a Spanish Gentleman and his Servant were already in possession of the only spare apartments in his House. On hearing this, the gallantry of my nation would not permit me to retain those accommodations, of which a Female was in want. I instantly signified to the Wood-man, that I transferred my right to the Lady; He made some objections; But I overruled them, and hastening to the Carriage, opened the door, and assisted the Lady to descend. I immediately recognized her for the same person whom I had seen at the Inn at Luneville. I took an opportunity of asking one of her Attendants, what was her name?
'The Baroness Lindenberg,' was the answer.
I could not but remark how different a reception our Host had given these newcomers and myself. His reluctance to admit them was visibly expressed on his countenance, and He prevailed on himself with difficulty to tell the Lady that She was welcome. I conducted her into the House, and placed her in the armed-chair, which I had just quitted. She thanked me very graciously; and made a thousand apologies for putting me to an inconvenience. Suddenly the Wood-man's countenance cleared up.
'At last I have arranged it!' said He, interrupting her excuses; 'I can lodge you and your suite, Madam, and you will not be under the necessity of making this Gentleman suffer for his politeness.
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The Monk -by- Matthew Lewis