M. POTVIN’S CHOICE
A comedy of courtship which demonstrates once again that he who hesitates in love is lost
HOLDING his glass of ale up to the light, M. Oscar Plouffe excavated a few grains of rice from his left ear. "Love,” breathed the fat landlord of the Hotel Vendôme, "is an admirable sentiment.”
He blew upon the foam and drank thirstily.
M. Gabriel Potvin, proprietor of the hay and feed business across the way, rested his elbows on the table and listened to the baffled honking of distant motor cars. Out in the dining room a maid was sweeping up confetti. M. Potvin knew that he should lx* in his office going over the accounts, but an unwonted laziness possessed him this morning. It was June June in Quebec, when a breath from Lotus Land steals across the green countryside under a golden sun. The village basked. It was pleasant to sit in the cool, shady tavern with Oscar Plouffe. fat. substantial, bald, beaming.
"One of the finest wedding breakfasts." continued the landlord as he set down his glass, “that has ever been served in my hotel. Everybody agrees that I excelled myself. And why not? Why not, Gabriel?”
M. Potvin blinked and murmured, "Quite so.”
“Two fine young people,” gurgled Plouffe. "Such happiness. That good Charlemagne. That pretty Gilbertine. Their health, my good Gabriel.”
Potvin grunted dubiously, but sipped a mouthful by way of tribute. It seemed strangely quiet in the Hotel Vendôme after the uproar of the past two hours. The wedding breakfast and subsequent convivialities in honor of that worthy young barber, M. Charlemagne Hurtubise. and his bride, the former Mile. Gilbertine Tardif, had been concluded. A beribboned taxi was fleeing wildly to the
station, pursued by the jovial guests. The Vendôme was again at peace.
M. Plouffe became sentimental over his beer. Weddings always affected him that way.
“Romance,” he sighed. "What would I not give to be young again. The scene we have just witnessed brought tears to my eyes. Those young people, Gabriel. How happy they were!”
“Umph,” said Gabriel Potvin, taking a long drink.
"Young Hurtubise,” continued Plouffe, mopping his bald pate w’ith a red handkerchief, “is a lucky fellow. His wife is a very pretty girl. And neat. And an excellent cook. And economical. Think of his happiness when he returns from the barber shop at night after a weary day of shaving chins and cutting hair. There is his little home. There is his supper bubbling on the stove.” Oscar Plouffe sniffed as though he could smell the delicious onion soup then and there. "And there is his little bride in a fresh apron. ‘My Gilbertine!’ he cries. ‘My Charlemagne!’ They fall into each other’s arms. What bliss!”
The fat landlord smacked his lips ecstatically.
Gabriel Potvin was unmoved.
“She is more likely to ask for money to buy a new hat.”
“I am disappointed in you, Gabriel,” said Plouffe, sorrowfully. "Indeed I am. I have always regarded you as a man of gcxxi judgment and brains. You are a bachelor, yes; but I never thought you were one of those foolish men who look upon marriage as a trap to be avoided at all costs. ‘All in gixxi time,’ I would say to myself. ‘Gabriel is no fool. He will marry when the time comes. He is not one of those
imbeciles who rush into matrimony without a penny to their names.’ And now you make silly jokes about new hats. Tut!”
"Merely a joke,” said Gabriel hastily. He tried to look like the judicial and sensible man the landlord had pictured. "Matrimony,” he said with the air of one dispensing wisdom from the mountain top, "is a serious step.”
"Ah ! There you speak truth. A very true saying. A true saying indeed, my good Gabriel.” Oscar Plouffe managed to imply that Potvin had given birth to a profoundly novel and original idea. "You are very wise to consider the subject from all sides. You have built up a snug little business here, my good Gabriel, and you are in a position to offer a wife a very fine home.” M. Plouffe’s fat, purplish face was as blankly innocent as only the countenance of a fat man can be. “We are friends, Gabriel, so you will not be offended—for, of course, it is common knowledge in the village; but may I ask if you have yet made up your mind as to w'hich of the two ladies is to be the fortunate one?” He gazed meditatively into his glass.
GABRIEL POTVIN started violently. He realized with a shock that he appeared to be committed to matrimony, and he did not have a clear idea of how it had come about. He wrould have declared himself most emphatically by way of denial had it not been for Oscar Plouffe’s delicate reference to the two ladies.
Common knowledge in the village! What was this? Gabriel Potvin had never fancied himself as a heartbreaker, with good reason, and he was convinced that no woman had
cast an amorous eye upon him since his twenty-fifth birthday. Yet here was Oscar Plouffe, who knew everything, casually assuming that he was not only planning marriage but deliberating between two ladies.
Gabriel Potvin had lived forty years in that village, forty years in which he should have learned something of the mysterious ways in which moved Oscar Plouffe, his wonders to perform. And yet his vanity and curiosity were so stirred that he smirked, tried to look very wise and cautiously set about learning more of these mysterious conquests.
"As a matter of fact, I—it is not certain that I shall marry. Indeed, I was not aware that anyone—”
Oscar Plouffe shook with silent laughter. He wagged a fat forefinger.
“You thought no one in the village had noticed it, you rogue? Ho, ho! As if anything could be hidden in a village such as Montville. Mademoiselle Benoit has had a quarrel with Sanpierre, the butcher, but it was not because he was jealous of you? It was not because she talked of you so much that he became angry. Oh, no. And, of course, you have never suspected that the Widow Duprat has been setting her cap for you since the last strawberry festival. Ho, ho! Y'ou are a deep one, Potvin. A deep, deep fellow.”
Oscar Plouffe wagged his big head admiringly.
“Mademoiselle Benoit—quarrelled with Sanpierre -over me?”
The landlord chuckled. "Good !” he exclaimed, slapping the table with a fat hand.
“But you act well, Gabriel. What a deep rogue you are, to be sure.”
“And the Widow Duprat—she has been courted by Farmer Gareau for five years.”
Plouffe heaved with laughter. “No one knows better than you, my friend, that Gareau is a stupid slowpoke, too timid to pop the question, and that she is tired of him. Next, you will be telling me that you have never noticed how often she passes your office in a day, and that you have never noticed her smile at you.”
Gabriel Potvin, in spite of his unbounded astonishment, began to think well of himself.
He was a dry, crusty little man, a miserly fellow whose head buzzed with nothing more romantic than the prices of hay and feed and schemes for making money, so the news that he was regarded in the village as a Lothario, that he had been the unwitting cause of a lover’s quarrel and that a widow was setting her cap for him, filled him with inordinate and bewildering delight. But he had no opportunity of investigating this pleasant business more thoroughly, because Oscar Plouffe finished the glass of ale and heaved himself to his feet, still chuckling.
“You are an old fox.” he said. “You pretend to know nothing about it, until some day you will make up your mind, choose one of those two lovely ladies and—poof!another wedding breakfast in the Vendôme. But nothing escapes Papa Plouffe. You do not fool me, my boy.”
I íe waddled away.
Gabriel Potvin, in something of a daze, went across the street to his hay and feed establishment, where he remained at his desk by the window in a state of deep contemplation for some time. And when the Widow Duprat, on her way to the post-office, passed by, he ventured a fascinating bow.
She had smiled at him. M. Potvin straightened his necktie.
AD it not been for Oscar Plouffe it is improbable that Gabriel Potvin would have embarked upon the quaint courtship that edified Montville within the next fortnight. If the fat landlord had not apprised him of the admiration of the two ladies, Gabriel Potvin would have gone his dusty way of hay and feed, all unsuspecting. Once aware of the flattering situation, however, his vanity was touched. Politeness alone demanded that he give the affair attention.
Thus it was that for the next few days Mademoiselle Berthe Benoit and the Widow Duprat became simultaneously aware of an excessive cordiality on the part of the dry little merchant. It seemed to each that she encountered him on the street at least a score of times in a day, and at every encounter each lady was overwhelmed by the warmth of his greeting, the sweeping gesture of doffed hat.
But, alas. Gabriel Potvin had long since permitted the exigencies of the hay and feed business to halt his education in the art of love. He did not know what to do next.
Mademoiselle Berthe, in her maidenly modesty, could not help him. That delicious armful, that dark-eyed, redlipped. creamy-skinned, dimpled belle of Montville could only murmur a shy and frightened, “B’jour. m’sieu,” and flutter by with downcast glance. Gabriel Potvin, regarding this as a symptom of speechless adoration, was pleased and
encouraged, but he was much puzzled as to the next step.
The \\ idow Duprat, however, was no inexperienced girl. She was a bit startled, to be sure, by Potvin’s new-born gallantry, but her surprise was modified by the knowledge that the likeliest hings may be expected from the unlikeliest of men. Like an old campaigner she studied the situation, balanced the Potvin character against the Potvin bank account, considered the maddening tardiness of Farmer Gareau who had been hanging about for more than a year now without the slightest hint of a proposal, and decided that Potvin should have encouragement.
Accordingly, when she next encountered him on the street she dazzled him with a smile that made his head swim, responded to his muttered comment on the excellence of the weather with an enthusiasm calculated to make him feel that the weather was under his own personal supervision, and stopped to chat a while.
She was a large lady, this widow, a large lady with a speculative eye and a determined jaw. She turned the full battery of her rawboned charms upon Gabriel Potvin, told
him he was looking younger, sought information on the state of the hay and feed business, managed to work the conversation around to the subject of flowers.
“But you have not come to see my garden this year,” she chided. "Such a wonderful summer for flowers ! My gladioli —you must see them. They will win prizes at the fair.” ‘
“I have noticed—you have an admirable garden—” "Pooh! You have not seen it. You only glance at it in passing. It does not do itself justice from the fence.”
Gabriel Potvin discovered a hitherto buried passion for flowers.
“If I might—this evening—”
“You must come for tea.”
“It would be too much trouble.”
Gently, the widow tapped his arm. “For you.” she said, with her devastating smile, “it would be no trouble at all.” Gabriel Potvin consented to come for tea. The widow smiled triumphantly.
He went to the widow’s home that evening. He ate strawberries and cream and was served with cake that testified eloquently to the widow’s culinary talents; he viewed the admirable flower garden; he heard the modest story of a brave little woman who was very lonely ; he lapped up a number of compliments on the business genius that
had brought him success as a dealer in hay and feed. And by the time he returned to his rooms over the store that night he was inclined to believe that there was much to be said for the institution of matrimony, with the Widow Duprat as candidate.
“She is, as anyone can see,” he mused, “a woman of rare good judgment and common sense. She is no flibbertigibbet, that is certain. She admires a man for his sound qualities.” He did a little figuring on the back of an envelope, for Gabriel Potvin was above all things a business man.
“She has leisure to raise flowers. Obviously, she has money in the bank. Duprat certainly carried life insurance. And there is no mortgage on her house. If she admires me it would be unfair, most unfair—yes, I could do worse.”
But then he remembered Mademoiselle Benoit. He was in the fortunate position of a man with a choice to make. And what a choice ! On the one side a sensible woman with a snug little fortune; on the other side, youth and beauty.
"It will not do to make up my mind too soon,” he said to himself.
"VTEXT morning, emboldened by his success with the widow, Gabriel Potvin did not scuttle meekly past when he encountered the beauteous Mademoiselle Benoit on the street. Instead, he threw that young lady into a flurry of adorable confusion by stopping to enquire solicitously about the health and well-being of a foal that had just been presented to the world by the Benoit mare.
“The foal?” faltered Berthe. “But he is well and strong.”
“Ah! That is good,” said Potvin, as if a great weight had been removed from his mind. “I was wondering.”
“Yes, he is well,” replied Berthe demurely, as she shyly moved away.
“And yourself?” persisted Potvin. “You are looking fine.”
“I? Oh, I am quite well, thank you, M. Potvin.”
He coughed delicately.
“I—ah—it may be that I shall drop in at your home this evening to see the foal,” he added hastily.
“I shall tell papa.”
Gabriel Potvin went back to his office, where he absentmindedly bought five tons of hay at ten cents above the correct price. The blood stirred in his veins as he thought of the dimpled, dark-eyed Berthe. To think that she had quarrelled with Sanpierre over him.
“She is not like so many modern girls,” he said to himself. “She is sensible. She is not giddy. And, above all, she is so modest. How shy she was when I sjxjke to her. Like a frightened rabbit.”
Gabriel Potvin smiled tenderly as he reflected on the passion he had evoked so innocently. Yes, there was much to be said in favor of Mademoiselle Berthe, young though she was. and without the undeniable advantage of property.
So that evening, wearing his Sunday suit and a white collar, he strode jauntily up the front walk of the Benoit home. His heart bounded when he spied Berthe on the porch, reading a txx>k.
“Ah, mademoiselle!” exclaimed Potvin with a confident exuberance that had only been acquired by lengthy rehearsal of his speech of greeting, “I am fortunate to find you at home."
The girl put her book aside and glanced at him from beneath long lashes.
"It is a nice evening, M. Potvin,” she said. “I shall tell papa you are here to see the foal.”
And she tripped into the house.
Gabriel Potvin was a bit disappointed, the more so when the evening developed into an inspection of the foal, under the auspices of Osias Benoit, and a two-hour discussion of crop rotation and the iniquities of the Conservative party. He departed, however, with an invitation to Sunday supper, extended by Madame Benoit, who was no fool and who had noticed the good suit and the white collar.
IN MONTVILLE the life of every man, woman and child is an open book. People take a neighborly interest in one another. It was only natural that Montville should rub its eyes, sit up and take notice when Gabriel Potvin, confirmed bachelor and local miser, elected to set foot in the pleasant paths of courtship.
Any courtship, of course, is a matter of active concern to Montville. inevitably resolving the village into two camps of opinion —those who feel that the girl is throwing herself away upon a useless reprobate, and those who hold that a fine young man is being wasted on a silly little cabbagehead. But never was there a courtship that set so many tongues wagging, that caused such endless discussion and prophecy.
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M. Potvin’s Choice
Continued from page 15
that delayed the mail driver so long for gossip on his rounds. The fact that Gabriel Potvin had gone courting was tremendous; that he was courting two ladies at once was epic.
The man was diligent about it, of a certainty. Every evening he would stroll down the street, looking like a man who is trying to look as if he is not going courting. His good black suit, purchased by mail order ten years previous, was scrupulously brushed; his buttoned shoes had a feeble lustre; his head was high—not from pride, but because of the stiff linen collar—and his pale face snone from a recent shave.
Eyes peeped from behind curtains. Verandah chairs ceased rocking. Little children stopped in their play, aware, by the feverish actions of their elders, that something unusual was in the wind.
When he reached the comer the village held its breath.
Would he turn to his left down Laurier Avenue to call upon the Widow Duprat? Or would he continue down the main street to call upon Mademoiselle Benoit? Bets were placed on it. Ah ! He has turned to the left. The widow would land him yet.
It was no secret in the village that Gabriel Potvin’s suit was highly favored by the Benoit family. The girl herself gave no indication of her feelings, but then she was a shy thing and morose since her quarrel with young Sanpierre. The affair had really developed into a contest between the Widow Duprat and Mother Benoit.
On one evening Potvin would call on the widow to discuss the cultivation of flowers. He was not what one might call a romantic conversationalist. On the next evening he would call on Berthe Benoit and tell her all about the hay and feed business.
One Sunday afternoon he took the widow out driving. Great rejoicing among the Duprat supporters. Dejection among those who had bet on the Benoit entry. When you take your sweetheart out driving in Montville you might as well marry the girl, if you have any respect for village custom and opinion. But, on the following Sunday, he took Berthe out driving. The Duprat backers were confounded.
What did the man mean? He could not marry them both. Which was he courting?
As a matter of fact, Gabriel Potvin could not make up his mind.
In the back room of the Vendôme one night, after closing hours, he unburdened his heart to his sole confidant, Oscar Plouffe, over a friendly glass.
“The widow,” said Potvin gravely, as became a man upon whose momentous decision hung happiness or despair, “is a fine woman. A good housekeeper. She bakes a fine cake. And she has property. One must consider these things. To be sure, she is not as young as she was—”
“But then, my good Gabriel, neither are you,” Plouffe pointed out.
"True,” agreed Potvin with some acerbity, “but in the case of a man who has been busy making a living, that does not make of itself the same thing. The widow, I say, has her good points. Now, Mademoiselle Benoit has no property but she is a sensible girl, a very sensible girl— and very beautiful. A tidy eyeful,” he said with the air of a connoisseur. “I confess that I find it difficult to make up my mind.”
“You might toss a coin,” suggested Plouffe, ever the sportsman.
“Marriage,” said Potvin, as if he had just discovered the fact, “is a serious step. It is not to be settled by the toss of a coin. No, I must think the matter over carefully.”
“Do not delay too long,” advised Plouffe. “You must remember that the farmer Gareau has been courting the widow for two years.”
Gabriel Potvin dismissed that old slowpoke, Gareau, with a shrug.
“Pooh!” he said, and drowned all consideration of the farmer in a particularly long drink.
“And although Mademoiselle Benoit has had a quarrel with that young idiot. Sanpierre well, these young people, you know—”
Potvin emerged from the beer and laughed outright.
"There is one thing I have noticed about Mademoiselle Benoit." he said. "She is sensible. A shy girl, but sensible. And when, as you have told me yourself, she had a quarrel with Sanpierre because of her admiration for me—well, really, my good Oscar—”
“You are right. Gabriel. Quite right,” said Plouffe hastily, and wiped his chins with his sleeve.
BUT the words of the landlord made !
Potvin consider. He had encountered Farmer Gareau. a gangling, stoop-shouldered gentleman with huge hands and a formidable mustache, in the widow’s parlor that very evening, paying the fortnightly call that had been his custom for two years past.
And in the case of Mademoiselle Benoit, it was plain that he must soon take action one way or the other.
“At this rate,” he had told himself, “I shall arrive nowhere. The girl admires me, ! that is certain. I must be bold. Toujours l'audace.”
Yes, he must make up his mind quickly. But which to choose? Ah. it was a problem. He was almost disposed to regret the fatal charm that had placed him upon the horns of such a dilemma.
But that very night, at his own gate, he made up his mind. Or perhaps one should say that his mind was made up for him.
He had strolled home from the tavern and was but a few yards from his own door when he spied a figure leaning against the fence. There was something familiar about this figure, six feet in height and correspondingly broad, that leaned so indolently there as if waiting for someone.
Then Gabriel Potvin stiffened.
He recognized the man as Anthime Sanpierre, the butcher, former lover of Berthe Benoit.
“B'soirsaid Gabriel, with the condescending tone of one who regretfully recognizes the fact that he is the better man.
Sanpierre leaned back against the fence more indolently than ever. He gazed fixedly at the Potvin boots. Slowly his gaze travelled over the diminutive figure of the dealer in hay and feed until it ended at the Potvin hat.
Then he laughed.
M. Potvin did not like that laugh.
It conveyed derision. It conveyed contempt. It conveyed unspeakable insult. But it is difficult to make a quarrel because of a laugh.
“You are amused?” he enquired stiffly. Anthime Sanpierre lounged slowly away from the fence. He towered over the merchant.
“But yes,” he replied solemnly.
And with that he gravely tugged at the brim of M. Potvin’s hat until it came down over M. Potvin’s nose, took advantage of the victim’s temporary bewilderment to pull the Potvin tie from beneath the Potvin waistcoat, and sauntered nonchalantly away.
Spluttering, Gabriel Potvin removed his hat, thrust the necktie back into place, and glared after the sturdy form of the retreating butcher.
“So!” he declared. “You are jealous, eh? We shall give you something to be jealous about, my fine young fellow.”
He stamped up the walk. Once he turned, just long enough to hurl the word “Brute!” into the night, and then he went upstairs to his rooms.
That settled it.
Gabriel Potvin had made his choice.
Upon Mademoiselle Benoit he would confer the priceless boon of a lifelong interest in the Potvin hay and feed business.
nPHE worthy merchant was very cheerful all the next day. Having made up his mind, having definitely decided between maid and widow, he felt relieved and undisturbed of spirit. He saw now that it j was Mademoiselle Benoit who had won his heart from the beginning, and he wondered how he had ever been such a fool as to consider marriage with that red-faced old battle-axe, the Widow Duprat.
It was with extraordinary care that he attired himself that evening. It was with diligence that he shined his boots, with I deliberation that he selected the red necktie with the purple spots, with the aid of a I toothpick that he went so far as to clean his I fingernails.
And at eight o'clock sharp he came up the Benoit walk. There was resolution in his stride, determination in his eye.
“Ah ! It is M. Potvin !” beamed Madame Benoit, in glad greeting. “Come up, neighbor. Come up and sit down. A fine evening, is it not? Make yourself comfortable. Take the rocking chair.” She scurried to the door, bawled “Berthe!” and fluttered around the honored guest as if he were royalty.
Mademoiselle Berthe took an unconscionably long time to dress, hut Gabriel Potvin complacently put this down to a natural desire on the part of the young lady to make herself pleasing in his sight. Eventually, however, the old lady went in search of her, and M. Potvin heard sounds of argument from within the house. One of the younger Benoits made him nervous and uncomfortable by peeking at him through the verandah rails, snickering.
Berthe appeared at last, as shy, as modest as ever in the presence of the object of her maidenly adoration.
Gabriel Potvin did not know’ just how to begin.
He cleared his throat.
“The little foal,” said the girl suddenly, “was not well today.”
"Ah?” said Potvin, disconcerted.
“He does not eat. Papa says we may have to call the veterinary.”
“Indeed,” said Potvin compassionately. “It is too bad.”
In silence they considered the illness of the unhappy foal.
M. Potvin took a deep breath and was prepared to start again when Berthe said :
“Was your business good today?”
“Pardon?” gulf'd Potvin. “Oh—business? Yes. Yes, indeed. Very good. It is difficult to collect the money, you understand, and sales have been few—it is a bad season, one of the worst—but, yes, business is good. Excellent.”
This effort exhausted him. Berthe sighed. Potvin rallied all his forces for one noble I effort.
But she was rising from her chair.
“You will pardon me? I must get my sewing. One must do something.”
She went into the house. She was away ! for a quarter of an hour, presumably looking j for her sewing, but finally she returned on the wings of a vociferous storm of whispering from her mother.
Gabriel Potvin went at it again.
“Mademoiselle,” he said, wondering if he should lay a pocket handkerchief on the floor and kneel upon it as he understood to lie recommended by the best authorities,
, “as you doubtless know, I have done well in business: that is to say— in fact, the hay and feed business being what it is—small profits and much work—nevertheless—in short, I have done well.”
But the girl did not seem to be listening ! to this passionate prelude. She was gazing down the walk. And Potvin, following her gaze, suddenly glared. Toward them strode I Anthime Sanpierre.
j T ORDLY. confident, complacent, in new tan shoes, with white flannel pants of a tightness that threatened momentary disaster. with a pink shirt and red armbands, his yellow hair crowned by a straw hat,
. sartorially magnificent by all the standards j of Montville, came Anthime Sanpierre.
; With a gesture of superb indifference, he i flicked a cigarette butt into the grass. With
ominous stride he boldly ascended the steps.
“B'soir!” he said grimly.
Gabriel Potvin, pink with wrath at the impudence of the interloper, got up. But his muttered greeting was ignored by Sanpierre, who strode past him and confronted Berthe.
“So !” he said, looking down at her.
“Anthime—” she said pleadingly.
“It is nothing to me,’’exclaimed Sanpierre, slapping his chest vigorously, “if you wish to go car driving with the station agent. We have had our quarrel about that, but it is nothing to me. Nothing, I say. But when this”he wheeled about and pointed a stubby forefinger at the gulping Potvin —“when this makes a fool of you to the village, it is time for me to forget my pride.”
“Anthime!” she whispered. "Please!”
“Are you still angry?” he demanded roughly.
Berthe shook her head.
"Well, then.” And he grabbed her in his arms, lifting her out of the chair, kissing her full on the lips. “We make up our quarrel in this manner,” he resumed, holding her at arm’s length. “But if I catch you riding in a car with the station agent again, it will not go so easily with you.”
“Anthime!” she whimpered ecstatically. “You are so strong!”
Gabriel Potvin blinked. What was this? But he had no chance to venture upon a reasonable enquiry for explanation of the scene, for Sanpierre disengaged himself.
“One moment, my angel,” he said to Berthe.
Courteously but firmly, then, he took Gabriel Potvin by the arm. Silently he marched the bewildered dealer in hay and feed down the steps, down the walk, out to the gate, all the time holding Potvin’s meagre arm in a grip of steel. Ironically he raised his hat.
“Mademoiselle will be engaged for the remainder of the evening,” he informed Gabriel Potvin. “In fact,” he added, “she will be engaged until after the banns are published.”
Whereupon he strode solemnly back to the verandah.
. POTVIN was at least two blocks from the Benoit home before he could collect his scattered wits, before his wrath and astonishment subsided, before he consoled himself with the realization that Berthe was not all that she had seemed. He saw her now in her true colors, as a young, foolish, giddy, flighty girl.
“Why, in my day,” reflected Potvin bitterly. “In my day she would have been spanked.”
Gradually his wrath began to cool. He congratulated himself that he had not gone so far as to propose marriage.
“Why, she would have made my life a misery,” he told himself. “Car driving with the station agent, indeed ! So that’s the sort of girl she is. It is doubtful if she can cook. And that rascal Sanpierre, of a certainty, would be hanging around the house all the time. I am well rid of her.”
For the second time, Anthime Sanpierre had made up his mind for him. He saw now, as he should have seen all along, that the Widow Duprat was the mate for him. There was a woman ! Nothing flighty about her. A sensible woman, long past the age when jealous lovers may cause unpleasantness. A trifle red of face, to be sure, and of a manner that could be described as overbearing.
He was on the porch of the widow’s home, on the vine-covered porch gloomy in the August twilight, before he realized that the Widow Duprat was not alone. There, untangling himself from the depths of a rocking chair, lowered the awkward form of Farmer Gareau extending a huge hand.
“M. Potvin,” he boomed.
But the widow was already gripping Gabriel’s hands. She was shrieking at him. Never had her voice seemed so harsh: never had it grated on his nerves so miserably.
“How fortunate,” she was shouting. “My good friend, M. Potvin—how good of you to call just now! What luck that you should be the first to know !”
Gabriel Potvin’s knees felt weak. He tried to say something, but his throat was husky and he achieved only a squeak. Yes, it was coming.
"Adolphus,” gurgled the widow, turning to Gareau, "you know M. Potvin. A dear friend. We both love flowers. I am sure he will be so happy when he hears the news.” “Ug!” said Gabriel brightly.
"Adolphus and I.” shrilled the widow, with the clamorous joy of one who has fought the long fight and achieved victory at last, "are to be married. For a long time now—two years, is it not, my darling?—we have been friends. And now, just this very evening, not five minutes ago—”
Somehow, Gabriel Potvin managed to reach the sanctuary of the Vendôme tavern.
NO?” he said to Papa Plouffe along about the third quart of beer, “I have considered it from every side. And I have decided not to marry after all.”
"Well, neighbor,” sighed Oscar Plouffe, “it is your own affair, of course. But it is not every man who has two such choices —” “There is,” said Potvin, "a third choice.” "Another?”
“There is the choice of remaining single.” "True. But nevertheless—”
"It is strange,” murmured Potvin thought' fully, "that when I listened to you when you spoke so highly of matrimony, it did not occur to me that you are a bachelor."
"Some men,” observed Plouffe. without the trace of a smile on his bland countenance, "are destined to be bachelors.”
"And I,” returned Gabriel Potvin, “am one of them.”
Perhaps it was then that the first inkling ! of suspicion crept into his mind. He could i not forget Plouffe’s eulogy of matrimony. Strange indeed that the doctor did not take his own medicine. Suspicion, yes, faint and disturbing; suspicion that rose almost to certainty on that morning when two wedding breakfasts were served in the Vendôme, ! and Gabriel Potvin sat in a comer and eyed the bland and beaming Plouffe as the landlord waddled with jest and laughter among his guests; but suspicion only.
After that, however, Gabriel Potvin was one of a large number of villagers who know that if Oscar Plouffe desired to lend destiny a helping hand in its management of the affairs of Montville, such as by way of patching up a foolish lovers’ quarrel or stimulating a cautious admirer into a proposal, he moved in a way that was as effective as it was mysterious.