"In what were they deficient?"
"Well, I will tell you, because you are not acquainted with them, and there can be no indiscretion on my part. One whom I certainly would have married, for I loved her dearly, was extremely vain. She would have ruined me in fashionable clothes and by her love for luxuries. Fancy! she was in the habit of paying one sequin every month to the hair-dresser, and as much at least for pomatum and perfumes."
"She was a giddy, foolish girl. Now, I spend only ten soldi in one year on wax which I mix with goat's grease, and there I have an excellent pomatum."
"Another, whom I would have married two years ago, laboured under a disease which would have made me unhappy; as soon as I knew of it, I ceased my visits."
"What disease was it?"
"A disease which would have prevented her from being a mother, and, if I get married, I wish to have children."
"All that is in God's hands, but I know that my health is excellent. Is it not, uncle?"
"Another was too devout, and that does not suit me. She was so over- scrupulous that she was in the habit of going to her confessor twice a week, and every time her confession lasted at least one hour. I want my wife to be a good Christian, but not bigoted."
"She must have been a great sinner, or else she was very foolish. I confess only once a month, and get through everything in two minutes. Is it not true, uncle? and if you were to ask me any questions, uncle, I should not know what more to say."
"One young lady thought herself more learned than I, although she would, every minute, utter some absurdity. Another was always low- spirited, and my wife must be cheerful."
"Hark to that, uncle! You and my mother are always chiding me for my cheerfulness."
"Another, whom I did not court long, was always afraid of being alone with me, and if I gave her a kiss she would run and tell her mother."
"How silly she must have been! I have never yet listened to a lover, for we have only rude peasants in P----, but I know very well that there are some things which I would not tell my mother."
"One had a rank breath; another painted her face, and, indeed, almost every young girl is guilty of that fault. I am afraid marriage is out of the question for me, because I want, for instance, my wife to have black eyes, and in our days almost every woman colours them by art; but I cannot be deceived, for I am a good judge."
"Are mine black?"
"You are laughing?"
"I laugh because your eyes certainly appear to be black, but they are not so in reality. Never mind, you are very charming in spite of that."
"Now, that is amusing. You pretend to be a good judge, yet you say that my eyes are dyed black. My eyes, sir, whether beautiful or ugly, are now the same as God made them. Is it not so, uncle?"
"I never had any doubt of it, my dear niece."
"And you do not believe me, sir?"
"No, they are too beautiful for me to believe them natural."
"Oh, dear me! I cannot bear it."
"Excuse me, my lovely damigella, I am afraid I have been too sincere."
After that quarrel we remained silent. The good curate smiled now and then, but his niece found it very hard to keep down her sorrow.
At intervals I stole a look at her face, and could see that she was very near crying. I felt sorry, for she was a charming girl. In her hair, dressed in the fashion of wealthy countrywomen, she had more than one hundred sequins' worth of gold pins and arrows which fastened the plaits of her long locks as dark as ebony. Heavy gold ear-rings, and a long chain, which was wound twenty times round her snowy neck, made a fine contrast to her complexion, on which the lilies and the roses were admirably blended. It was the first time that I had seen a country beauty in such splendid apparel. Six years before, Lucie at Pasean had captivated me, but in a different manner.
Christine did not utter a single word, she was in despair, for her eyes were truly of the greatest beauty, and I was cruel enough to attack them. She evidently hated me, and her anger alone kept back her tears. Yet I would not undeceive her, for I wanted her to bring matters to a climax.
When the gondola had entered the long canal of Marghera, I asked the clergyman whether he had a carriage to go to Treviso, through which place he had to pass to reach P----.
"I intended to walk," said the worthy man, "for my parish is poor and I am the same, but I will try to obtain a place for Christine in some carriage travelling that way."
"You would confer a real kindness on me if you would both accept a seat in my chaise; it holds four persons, and there is plenty of room."
"It is a good fortune which we were far from expecting"
"Not at all, uncle; I will not go with this gentleman."
"Why not, my dear niece?"
"Because I will not."
"Such is the way," I remarked, without looking at her, "that sincerity is generally rewarded."
"Sincerity, sir! nothing of the sort," she exclaimed, angrily, "it is sheer wickedness. There can be no true black eyes now for you in the world, but, as you like them, I am very glad of it."
"You are mistaken, lovely Christine, for I have the means of ascertaining the truth."