The Lane that had No Turning/The Marriage of the Miller

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MEDALLION put it into his head on the day that Bénoit and Annette were married. "See," said Medallion, "Annette wouldn’t have you—and quite right—and she took what was left of that Bénoit, who’ll laugh at you over his mush-and-milk."

"Bénoit will want flour some day, with no money." The old man chuckled and rubbed his hands.

"That’s nothing; he has the girl—an angel!"

"Good enough, that is what I said of her—an angel!"

"Get married yourself, Farette."

For reply Farette thrust a bag of native tabac into Medallion’s hands. Then they went over the names of the girls in the village. Medallion objected to those for whom he wished a better future, but they decided at last on Julie Lachance, who, Medallion thought, would in time profoundly increase Farette’s respect for the memory of his first wife; for Julie was not an angel. Then the details were ponderously thought out by the miller, and ponderously acted upon, with the dry approval of Medallion, who dared not tell the Curé of his complicity, though he was without compunction. He had a sense of humour, and knew there could be no tragedy in the thing—for Julie. But the miller was a careful man and original in his methods. He still possessed the wardrobe of the first wife, thoughtfully preserved by his sister, even to the wonderful grey watered-poplin which had been her wedding-dress. These he had taken out, shaken free of cayenne, camphor, and lavender, and sent upon the back of Parpon, the dwarf, to the house where Julie lodged (she was an orphan), following himself with a statement on brown paper, showing the extent of his wealth, and a parcel of very fine flour from the new stones in his mill. All was spread out, and then he made a speech, describing his virtues, and condoning his one offence of age by assuring her that every tooth in his head was sound. This was merely the concession of politeness, for he thought his offer handsome.

Julie slyly eyed the wardrobe and as slyly smiled, and then, imitating Farette’s manner—though Farette could not see it, and Parpon spluttered with laughter—said:

"M’sieu’, you are a great man. The grey poplin is noble, also the flour, and the writing on the brown paper. M’sieu’, you go to Mass, and all your teeth are sound; you have a dog-churn, also three feather-beds, and five rag carpets; you have sat on the grand jury. M’sieu’, I have a dot; I accept you. M’sieu’, I will keep the brown paper, and the grey poplin, and the flour." Then with a grave elaborate bow, "M’sieu’!"

That was the beginning and end of the courtship. For though Farette came every Sunday evening and smoked by the fire, and looked at Julie as she arranged the details of her dowry, he only chuckled, and now and again struck his thigh and said:

"Mon Dieu, the ankle, the eye, the good child, Julie, there!"

Then he would fall to thinking and chuckling again. One day he asked her to make him some potato-cakes of the flour he had given her. Her answer was a catastrophe. She could not cook; she was even ignorant of buttermilk-pudding. He went away overwhelmed, but came back some days afterwards and made another speech. He had laid his plans before Medallion, who approved of them. He prefaced the speech by placing the blank marriage certificate on the table. Then he said that his first wife was such a cook, that when she died he paid for an extra mass and twelve very fine candles. He called upon Parpon to endorse his words, and Parpon nodded to all he said, but, catching Julie’s eye, went off into gurgles of laughter, which he pretended were tears, by smothering his face in his capote. "Ma’m’selle," said the miller, "I have thought. Some men go to the Avocat or the Curé with great things; but I have been a pilgrimage, I have sat on the grand jury. There, Ma’m’selle!" His chest swelled, he blew out his cheeks, he pulled Parpon’s ear as Napoleon pulled Murat’s. "Ma’m’selle, allons! Babette, the sister of my first wife—ah! she is a great cook also—well, she was pouring into my plate the soup—there is nothing like pea-soup with a fine lump of pork, and thick molasses for the buckwheat cakes. Ma’m’selle, allons! Just then I thought. It is very good; you shall see; you shall learn how to cook. Babette will teach you. Babette said many things. I got mad and spilt the soup. Ma’m’selle—eh, holy! what a turn has your waist!"

At length he made it clear to her what his plans were, and to each and all she consented; but when he had gone she sat and laughed till she cried, and for the hundredth time took out the brown paper and studied the list of Farette’s worldly possessions.

The wedding-day came. Julie performed her last real act of renunciation when, in spite of the protests of her friends, she wore the grey watered-poplin, made modern by her own hands. The wedding-day was the anniversary of Farette’s first marriage, and the Curé faltered in the exhortation when he saw that Farette was dressed in complete mourning, even to the crape hat-streamers, as he said, out of respect for the memory of his first wife, and as a kind of tribute to his second. At the wedding-breakfast, where Medallion and Parpon were in high glee, Farette announced that he would take the honeymoon himself, and leave his wife to learn cooking from old Babette.

So he went away alone cheerfully, with hymeneal rice falling in showers on his mourning garments; and his new wife was as cheerful as he, and threw rice also.

She learned how to cook, and in time Farette learned that he had his one true inspiration when he wore mourning at his second marriage.