Thinking that, after all, he should lose nothing, Charles promised himself to ask her in marriage as soon as occasion offered, but each time such occasion did offer the fear of not finding the right words sealed his lips.
Old Rouault would not have been sorry to be rid of his daughter, who was of no use to him in the house. In his heart he excused her, thinking her too clever for farming, a calling under the ban of Heaven, since one never saw a millionaire in it. Far from having made a fortune by it, the good man was losing every year; for if he was good in bargaining, in which he enjoyed the dodges of the trade, on the other hand, agriculture properly so called, and the internal management of the farm, suited him less than most people. He did not willingly take his hands out of his pockets, and did not spare expense in all that concerned himself, liking to eat well, to have good fires, and to sleep well. He liked old cider, underdone legs of mutton, glorias* well beaten up. He took his meals in the kitchen alone, opposite the fire, on a little table brought to him all ready laid as on the stage.
A mixture of coffee and spirits.
When, therefore, he perceived that Charles’s cheeks grew red if near his daughter, which meant that he would propose for her one of these days, he chewed the cud of the matter beforehand. He certainly thought him a little meagre, and not quite the son-in-law he would have liked, but he was said to be well brought-up, economical, very learned, and no doubt would not make too many difficulties about the dowry. Now, as old Rouault would soon be forced to sell twenty-two acres of “his property,” as he owed a good deal to the mason, to the harness-maker, and as the shaft of the cider-press wanted renewing, “If he asks for her,” he said to himself, “I’ll give her to him.”
At Michaelmas Charles went to spend three days at the Bertaux.
The last had passed like the others in procrastinating from hour to hour. Old Rouault was seeing him off; they were walking along the road full of ruts; they were about to part. This was the time. Charles gave himself as far as to the corner of the hedge, and at last, when past it—
“Monsieur Rouault,” he murmured, “I should like to say something to you.”
They stopped. Charles was silent.
“Well, tell me your story. Don’t I know all about it?” said old Rouault, laughing softly.
“Monsieur Rouault—Monsieur Rouault,” stammered Charles.
“I ask nothing better”, the farmer went on. “Although, no doubt, the little one is of my mind, still we must ask her opinion. So you get off—I’ll go back home. If it is ‘yes’, you needn’t return because of all the people about, and besides it would upset her too much. But so that you mayn’t be eating your heart, I’ll open wide the outer shutter of the window against the wall; you can see it from the back by leaning over the hedge.”