"Yes," said I, "there is certainly ground for hope, but the oracle will be dumb to all questions."
"I was going to say it will be dumb if you do not give me as many kisses as you have given your father."
"Oh, then I will soon make it speak!" said she, laughing; and throwing her arms about my neck she began to kiss me, and I to give her kisses in return.
Ah! what happy days they seem when I recall them; and still I like dwelling on these days despite my sad old age, the foe of love. When I recall these events I grow young again and feel once more the delights of youth, despite the long years which separate me from that happy time.
At last Esther sat down again, and asked, "Where is the pocket-book?" And the pyramid told her that the pocket-book had fallen through the opening in the fifth step of the staircase.
M. d'O---- said to his daughter,
"Come, my dear Esther, let us go and test the truth of the oracle." And full of joy and hope they went to the staircase, I following them, and M. d'O shewed her the hole through which the pocket-book must have fallen. He lighted a candle and we went down to the cellar, and before long he picked up the book, which had fallen into some water. We went up again in high spirits, and there we talked for over an hour as seriously as you please on the divine powers of the oracle, which, according to them, should render its possessor the happiest of mortals.
He opened the pocket-book and shewed us the four thousand pound notes. He gave two to his daughter, and made me take the two remaining; but I took them with one hand and with the other gave them to Esther begging her to keep them for me; but before she would agree to do so I had to threaten her with the stoppage of the famous cabalistic oracle. I told M. d'O that all I asked was his friendship, and thereon he embraced me, and swore to be my friend to the death.
By making the fair Esther the depositary of my two thousand pounds, I was sure of winning her affection by an appeal, not to her interest, but to her truthfulness. This charming girl had about her so powerful an attraction that I felt as if my life was wound up with hers.
I told M. d'O that my chief object was to negotiate the twenty millions at a small loss.
"I hope to be of service to you in the matter," he said, "but as I. shall often want to speak to you, you must come and live in our house, which you must look upon as your own."
"My presence will be a restraint on you. I shall be a trouble."
Esther joined her entreaties to her father's and I gave in, taking good care not to let them see how pleased I was. I contented myself with expressing my gratitude, to which they answered that it was I who conferred a favour.
M. d'O went into his closet, and as soon as I found myself alone with Esther I kissed her tenderly, saying that I should not be happy till I had won her heart.
"Do you love me?"
"Dearly, and I will do all in my power to shew how well I love you, if you will love me in return."
She gave me her hand, which I covered with kisses, and she went on to say, "As soon as you come and live with us, you must look out for a good opportunity for asking my hand of my father. You need not be afraid he will refuse you, but the first thing for you to do is to move into our house."
"My dear little wife! I will come to-morrow."
We said many sweet things to one another, talked about the future, and told each other our inmost thoughts; and I was undoubtedly truly in love, for not a single improper fancy rose in my mind in the presence of my dear who loved me so well.
The first thing that M. d'O said on his return was, that there would be a piece of news on the Exchange the next day.
"What is that, papa dear?"
"I have decided to take the whole risk--amounting to three hundred thousand florins-of the ship which is thought to have gone down. They will call me mad, but they themselves will be the madmen; which is what I should be if, after the proof we have had, I doubted the oracle any more."
"My dear sir, you make me frightened.