An event which long remained inexplicable afforded some distraction to my thoughts for a few days. At first I had refused to go and take possession of Roche-Mauprat.
“You really must,” my uncle had said, “go and see the improvements I have made in your property, the lands which have been brought under cultivation, the cattle that I have put on each of your metayer-farms. Now is the time for you to see how your affairs stand, and show your tenants that you take an interest in their work. Otherwise, on my death, everything will go from bad to worse and you will be obliged to let it, which may bring you in a larger income, perhaps, but will diminish the value of the property. I am too old now to go and manage your estate. For the last two years I have been unable to leave off this miserable dressing-gown; the abbe does not understand anything about it; Edmee has an excellent head; but she cannot bring herself to go to that place; she says she would be too much afraid, which is mere childishness.”
“I know that I ought to display more courage,” I replied; “and yet, uncle, what you are asking me to do is for me the most difficult thing in the world. I have not set foot on that accursed soil since the day I left it, bearing Edmee away from her captors. It is as if you were driving me out of heaven to send me on a visit to hell.”
The chevalier shrugged his shoulders; the abbe implored me to bring myself to do as he wished, as the reluctance I showed was a veritable disappointment to my uncle. I consented, and with a determination to conquer myself, I took leave of Edmee for two days. The abbe wanted to accompany me, to drive away the gloomy thoughts which would no doubt besiege me; but I had scruples about taking him from Edmee even for this short time; I knew how necessary he was to her. Tied as she was to the chevalier’s arm-chair, her life was so serious, so retired, that the least change was acutely felt. Each year had increased her isolation, and it had become almost complete since the chevalier’s failing health had driven from his table those happy children of wine, songs, and witticisms. He had been a great sportsman; and Saint Hubert’s Day, which fell on his birthday, had formerly brought all the nobility of the province to his house. Year after year the courtyards had resounded with the howls of the pack; year after year the stables had held their two long rows of spirited horses in their glistening stalls; year after year the sound of the horn had echoed through the great woods around, or sent out its blast under the windows of the big hall at each toast of the brilliant company. But those glorious days had long disappeared; the chevalier had given up hunting; and the hope of obtaining his daughter’s hand no longer brought round his arm-chair young men, who were bored by his old age, his attacks of gout, and the stories which he would repeat in the evening without remembering that he had already told them in