"Only to wash the eyes with a little lukewarm rose-water; or if the lady cries, the artificial colour is certain to be washed off."
At those words, the scene changed as if by the wand of a conjuror. The face of the charming girl, which had expressed nothing but indignation, spite and disdain, took an air of contentment and of placidity delightful to witness. She smiled at her uncle who was much pleased with the change in her countenance, for the offer of the carriage had gone to his heart.
"Now you had better cry a little, my dear niece, and 'il signore' will render full justice to your eyes."
Christine cried in reality, but it was immoderate laughter that made her tears flow.
That species of natural originality pleased me greatly, and as we were going up the steps at the landing-place, I offered her my full apologies; she accepted the carriage. I ordered breakfast, and told a 'vetturino' to get a very handsome chaise ready while we had our meal, but the curate said that he must first of all go and say his mass.
"Very well, reverend sir, we will hear it, and you must say it for my intention."
I put a silver ducat in his hand.
"It is what I am in the habit of giving," I observed.
My generosity surprised him so much that he wanted to kiss my hand. We proceeded towards the church, and I offered my arm to the niece who, not knowing whether she ought to accept it or not, said to me,
"Do you suppose that I cannot walk alone?"
"I have no such idea, but if I do not give you my arm, people will think me wanting in politeness."
"Well, I will take it. But now that I have your arm, what will people think?"
"Perhaps that we love each other and that we make a very nice couple."
"And if anyone should inform your mistress that we are in love with each other, or even that you have given your arm to a young girl?"
"I have no mistress, and I shall have none in future, because I could not find a girl as pretty as you in all Venice."
"I am very sorry for you, for we cannot go again to Venice; and even if we could, how could we remain there six months? You said that six months were necessary to know a girl well."
"I would willingly defray all your expenses."
"Indeed? Then say so to my uncle, and he will think it over, for I could not go alone."
"In six months you would know me likewise."
"Oh! I know-you very well already."
"Could you accept a man like me?"
"And will you love me?"
"Yes, very much, when you are my husband."
I looked at the young girl with astonishment. She seemed to me a princess in the disguise of a peasant girl. Her dress, made of 'gros de Tours' and all embroidered in gold, was very handsome, and cost certainly twice as much as the finest dress of a Venetian lady. Her bracelets, matching the neckchain, completed her rich toilet. She had the figure of a nymph, and the new fashion of wearing a mantle not having yet reached her village, I could see the most magnificent bosom, although her dress was fastened up to the neck. The end of the richly-embroidered skirt did not go lower than the ankles, which allowed me to admire the neatest little foot and the lower part of an exquisitely moulded leg. Her firm and easy walk, the natural freedom of all her movements, a charming look which seemed to say, "I am very glad that you think me pretty," everything, in short, caused the ardent fire of amorous desires to circulate through my veins. I could not conceive how such a lovely girl could have spent a fortnight in Venice without finding a man to marry or to deceive her. I was particularly delighted with her simple, artless way of talking, which in the city might have been taken for silliness.
Absorbed in my thoughts, and having resolved in my own mind on rendering brilliant homage to her charms, I waited impatiently for the end of the mass.
After breakfast I had great difficulty in convincing the curate that my seat in the carriage was the last one, but I found it easier to persuade him on our arrival in Treviso to remain for dinner and for supper at a small, unfrequented inn, as I took all the expense upon myself. He accepted very willingly when I added that immediately after supper a carriage would be in readiness to convey him to P----, where he would arrive in an hour after a peasant journey by moonlight. He had nothing to hurry him on, except his wish to say mass in his own church the next morning.
I ordered a fire and a good dinner, and the idea struck me that the curate himself might pledge the ring for me, and thus give me the opportunity of a short interview with his niece. I proposed it to him, saying that I could not very well go myself, as I did not wish to be known. He undertook the commission at once, expressing his pleasure at doing something to oblige me.
He left us, and I remained alone with Christine. I spent an hour with her without trying to give her even a kiss, although I was dying to do so, but I prepared her heart to burn with the same desires which were already burning in me by those words which so easily inflame the imagination of a young 'girl.
The curate came back and returned me the ring, saying that it could not be pledged until the day after the morrow, in consequence of the Festival of the Holy Virgin. He had spoken to the cashier, who had stated that if I liked the bank would lend double the sum I had asked.