I returned to my mother at Lausanne, where my health soon returned, and I went into the service of an English lady who was very fond of me, and would have taken me with her to Italy if she had not conceived some suspicions about the young Duke of Rosebury, with whom she was in love, and whom she thought in love with me. She suspected me, but wrongfully, of being her rival in secret. She sent me away, after giving me rich presents, and saying how sorry she was she could not keep me. I went back to my mother, and for two years I have lived with the toil of my hands. Four days ago M. Lebel, the ambassador's steward, asked me if I would enter the service of an Italian gentleman as housekeeper. I agreed, in the hope of seeing Italy, and this hope is the cause of my stupidity. In short: here I am."
"What stupidity are you referring to?"
"The stupidity of having entered your service before I knew you."
"I like your freedom. You would not have come, then, if you had not known me?"
"Certainly not, for no lady will ever take me after having been with you."
"Why not? may I ask."
"Well, sir; do you think you are the kind of man to have a house- keeper like myself without the public believing my situation to be of quite a different nature?"
"No, you are too pretty, and I don't look like a fossil, certainly; but after all, what matter does it make?"
"It is all very well for you to make light of it, and if I were in your place I would do the same; but how am I, who am a woman and not in an independent position, to set myself above the rules and regulations of society?"
"You mean, Madame Dubois, that you would very much like to go back to Lausanne?"
"Not exactly, as that would not be just to you."
"People would be sure to say that either your words or your deeds were too free, and you might possibly pass a rather uncharitable judgment on me."
"What judgment could I pass on you?"
"You might think I wanted to impose on you."
"That might be, as I should be very much hurt by so sudden and uncalled-for a departure. All the same I am sorry for you, as with your ideas you can neither go nor stay with any satisfaction. Nevertheless, you must do one or the other."
"I have made up my mind. I shall stay, and I am almost certain I shall not regret it."
"I am glad to hear that, but there is one point to which I wish to call your attention."
"What is that?"
"I will tell you. Let us have no melancholy and no scruples."
"You shall not see me melancholy, I promise you; but kindly explain what you mean by the word 'scruples.'"
"Certainly. In its ordinary acceptation, the word 'scruple' signifies a malicious and superstitious whim, which pronounces an action which may be innocent to be guilty."
"When a course of action seems doubtful to me, I never look upon the worst side of it. Besides, it is my duty to look after myself and not other people."
"I see you have read a good deal."
"Reading is my greatest luxury. Without books I should find life unbearable."
"Have you any books?"
"A good many. Do you understand English?"
"Not a word."
"I am sorry for that, as the English books would amuse you."
"I do not care for romances."
"Nor do I. But you don't think that there are only romances in English, do you? I like that. Why do you take me for such a lover of the romantic, pray?"
"I like that, too. That pretty outburst is quite to my taste, and I am delighted to be the first to make you laugh."
"Pardon me if I laugh, but . . ."
"But me no buts, my dear; laugh away just as you like, you will find that the best way to get over me. I really think, though, that you put your services at too cheap a rate."
"That makes me laugh again, as it is for you to increase my wages if you like."
"I shall take care that it is done."
I rose from table, not taken, but surprised, with this young woman, who seemed to be getting on my blind side. She reasoned well, and in this first interview she had made a deep impression on me.