Deeply in love with M---- M----, and having come to the casino only for her, I did not feel disposed to accept the exchange, although I was very far from despising C---- C----, whose charms were as great, at least, as those of M---- M----. I loved her tenderly, I adored her, but at that moment it was not her whom I wanted, because at first her presence had struck me as a mystification. It seemed to me that if I celebrated the return of C---- C---- in an amorous manner, I would fail in what I owed to myself, and I thought that I was bound in honour not to lend myself to the imposition. Besides, without exactly realizing that feeling, I was not sorry to have it in my power to reproach M---- M---- with an indifference very strange in a woman in love, and I wanted to act in such a manner that she should not be able to say that she had procured me a pleasure. I must add that I suspected M---- M---- to be hiding in the secret closet, perhaps with her friend.
I had to take a decision, for I could not pass the whole night in my costume of Pierrot, and without speaking. At first I thought of going away, the more so that both C---- C---- and her friend could not be certain that I and Pierrot were the same individual, but I soon abandoned the idea with horror, thinking of the deep sorrow which would fill the loving soul of C---- C---- if she ever heard I was the Pierrot. I almost fancied that she knew it already, and I shared the grief which she evidently would feel in that case. I had seduced her. I had given her the right to call me her husband. These thoughts broke my heart.
If M---- M---- is in the closet, said I to myself, she will shew herself in good time. With that idea, I took off the gauze which covered my features. My lovely C---- C---- gave a deep sigh, and said:
"I breathe again! it could not be anyone but you, my heart felt it. You seemed surprised when you saw me, dearest; did you not know that I was waiting for you?"
"I had not the faintest idea of it."
"If you are angry, I regret it deeply, but I am innocent."
"My adored friend, come to my arms, and never suppose that I can be angry with you. I am delighted to see you; you are always my dear wife: but I entreat you to clear up a cruel doubt, for you could never have betrayed my secret."
"I! I would never have been guilty of such a thing, even if death had stared me in the face."
"Then, how did you come here? How did your friend contrive to discover everything? No one but you could tell her that I am your husband. Laura perhaps....'
"No, Laura is faithful, dearest, and I cannot guess how it was."
"But how could you be persuaded to assume that disguise, and to come here? You can leave the convent, and you have never apprised me of that important circumstance."
"Can you suppose that I would not have told you all about it, if I had ever left the convent, even once? I came out of it two hours ago, for the first time, and I was induced to take that step in the simplest, the most natural manner."
"Tell me all about it, my love. I feel extremely curious."
"I am glad of it, and I would conceal nothing from you. You know how dearly M---- M---- and I love each other. No intimacy could be more tender than ours; you can judge of it by what I told you in my letters. Well, two days ago, my dear friend begged the abbess and my aunt to allow me to sleep in her room in the place of the lay-sister, who, having a very bad cold, had carried her cough to the infirmary. The permission was granted, and you cannot imagine our pleasure in seeing ourselves at liberty, for the first time, to sleep in the same bed. To-day, shortly after you had left the parlour, where you so much amused us, without our discovering that the delightful Pierrot was our friend, my dear M---- M---- retired to her room and I followed her. The moment we were alone she told me that she wanted me to render her a service from which depended our happiness. I need not tell you how readily I answered that she had only to name it. Then she opened a drawer, and much to my surprise she dressed me in this costume. She was laughing; and I did the same without suspecting the end of the joke. When she saw me entirely metamorphosed into a nun, she told me that she was going to trust me with a great secret, but that she entertained no fear of my discretion. 'Let me tell you, clearest friend,' she said to me, 'that I was on the point of going out of the convent, to return only tomorrow morning. I have, however, just decided that you shall go instead. You have nothing to fear and you do not require any instructions, because I know that you will meet with no difficulty. In an hour, a lay-sister will come here, I will speak a few words apart to her, and she will tell you to follow her. You will go out with her through the small gate and across the garden as far as the room leading out to the low shore. There you will get into the gondola, and say to the gondolier these words: 'To the casino.' You will reach it in five minutes; you will step out and enter a small apartment, where you will find a good fire; you will be alone, and you will wait.' 'For whom? I enquired. 'For nobody. You need not know any more: you may only be certain that nothing unpleasant will happen to you; trust me for that. You will sup at the casino, and sleep, if you like, without being disturbed. Do not ask any questions, for I cannot answer them. Such is, my dear husband, the whole truth. Tell me now what I could do after that speech of my friend, and after she had received my promise to do whatever she wished. Do not distrust what I tell you, for my lips cannot utter a falsehood. I laughed, and not expecting anything else but an agreeable adventure, I followed the lay-sister and soon found myself here. After a tedious hour of expectation, Pierrot made his appearance. Be quite certain that the very moment I saw you my heart knew who it was, but a minute after I felt as if the lightning had struck me when I saw you step back, for I saw clearly enough that you did not expect to find me. Your gloomy silence frightened me, and I would never have dared to be the first in breaking it; the more so that, in spite of the feelings of my heart, I might have been mistaken. The dress of Pierrot might conceal some other man, but certainly no one that I could have seen in this place without horror. Recollect that for the last eight months I have been deprived of the happiness of kissing you, and now that you must be certain of my innocence, allow me to congratulate you upon knowing this casino. You are happy, and I congratulate you with all my heart. M----M---- is, after me, the only woman worthy of your love, the only one with whom I could consent to share it. I used to pity you, but I do so no longer, and your happiness makes me happy. Kiss me now."