"You can't refuse me, as everybody knows I have come on purpose to ask you."
"Then everybody must know that I have refused you. I want to be alone--absolutely alone, without any kind of restriction on my liberty. The least suspicion of company would bore me."
"I shall not bore you in any way, and you will be at perfect liberty to ignore my presence. I shall not be offended if you don't enquire after me, and I shall not ask after you--even if you are ill. I shall have my meals served to me by my own servant, and I shall take care not to walk in the garden unless I am perfectly certain you are not there. You must allow that if you have any claims to politeness you cannot refuse me."
"If you were acquainted with the most ordinary rules of politeness, madam, you would not persist in a request to which I have formally declined to accede."
She did not answer, but my words had evidently produced no effect. I was choking with rage. I strode up and down the room, and felt inclined to send her away by force as a madwoman. However, I reflected that she had relations in a good position whom I might offend if I treated her roughly, and that I might make an enemy capable of exacting a terrible revenge; and, finally, that Madame might disapprove of my using violence to this hideous harpy....
"Well, madam," said I, "you shall have the apartment you have solicited with so much importunity, and an hour after you come in I shall be on my way back to Soleure."
"I accept the apartment, and I shall occupy it the day after to- morrow. As for your threat of returning to Soleure, it is an idle one, as you would thereby make yourself the laughing-stock of the whole town."
With this final impertinence she rose and went away, without taking any further notice of me. I let her go without moving from my seat. I was stupefied. I repented of having given in; such impudence was unparalleled. I called myself a fool, and vowed I deserved to be publicly hooted. I ought to have taken the whole thing as a jest; to have contrived to get her out of the house on some pretext, and then to have sent her about her business as a madwoman, calling all my servants as witnesses.
My dear Dubois came in, and I told my tale. She was thunderstruck.
"I can hardly credit her requesting, or your granting, such a thing," said she, "unless you have some motives of your own."
I saw the force of her argument, and not wishing to make a confidante of her I held my tongue, and went out to work off my bile.
I came in tired, after taking a stiff walk. I took supper with Madame Dubois, and we sat at table till midnight. Her conversation pleased me more and more; her mind was well-furnished, her speech elegant, and she told her stories and cracked her jokes with charming grace. She was devoid of prejudices, but by no means devoid of principle. Her discretion was rather the result of system than of virtue; but if she had not a virtuous spirit, her system would not have shielded her from the storms of passion or the seductions of vice.
My encounter with the impudent widow had so affected me that I could not resist going at an early hour on the following day to communicate it to M. de Chavigni. I warned Madame Dubois that if I were not back by dinner-time she was not to wait for me.
M. de Chavigni had been told by my enemy that she was going to pay me a visit, but he roared with laughter on hearing the steps she had taken to gain her ends.
"Your excellency may find it very funny," said I, "but I don't."
"So I see; but take my advice, and be the first to laugh at the adventure. Behave as if you were unaware of her presence, and that will be a sufficient punishment for her. People will soon say she is smitten with you, and that you disdain her love. Go and tell the story to M.----, and stay without ceremony to dinner. I have spoken to Lebel about your pretty housekeeper: the worthy man had no malicious intent in sending her to you. He happened to be going to Lausanne, and just before, I had told him to find you a good housekeeper; thinking it over on his way, he remembered his friend Madame Dubois, and the matter was thus arranged without malice or pretense.