As soon as I was alone with the charming nun, whose face recalled to my memory the happy hours I had passed with M---- M----, my imagination began to kindle, and drawing close to her I began to talk of her seducer, telling her I was surprised that be had not helped her in the cruel position in which he had placed her. She replied that she was debarred from accepting any money by her vow of poverty and obedience, and that she had given up to the abbess what remained of the alms the bishop had procured her.
"As to my state when I was so fortunate as to meet you, I think he cannot have received my letter."
"Possibly, but is he a rich or handsome man?"
"He is rich but certainly not handsome. On the contrary, he is extremely ugly, deformed, and over fifty."
"How did you become amorous of a fellow like that?"
"I never loved him, but he contrived to gain my pity. I thought he would kill himself, and I promised to be in the garden on the night he appointed, but I only went there with the intention of bidding him begone, and he did so, but after he had carried his evil designs into effect."
"Did he use violence towards you, then?"
"No, for that would have been no use. He wept, threw himself on his knees, and begged so hard, that I let him do what he liked on the condition that he would not kill himself, and that he would come no more to the garden."
"Had you no fear of consequences?"
"I did not understand anything about it; I always thought that one could not conceive under three times at least."
"Unhappy ignorance! how many woes are caused by it! Then he did not ask you to give him any more assignations?"
"He often asked me, but I would not grant his request because our confessor made me promise to withstand him thenceforth, if I wished to be absolved."
"Did you tell him the name of the seducer?"
"Certainly not; the good confessor would not have allowed me to do so; it would have been a great sin."
"Did you tell your confessor the state you were in?"
"No, but he must have guessed it. He is a good old man, who doubtless prayed to God for me, and my meeting you was, perhaps, the answer to his prayers."
I was deeply moved, and for a quarter of an hour I was silent, and absorbed in my thoughts. I saw that this interesting girl's misfortune proceeded from her ignorance, her candour, her perfect innocence, and a foolish feeling of pity, which made her grant this monster of lubricity a thing of which she thought little because she had never been in love. She was religious, but from mere habit and not from reflection, and her religion was consequently very weak. She abhorred sin, because she was obliged to purge herself of it by confession under pain of everlasting damnation, and she did not want to be damned. She had plenty of natural common sense, little wit, for the cultivation of which she had no opportunities, and she was in a state of ignorance only pardonable in a nun. On weighing these facts I foresaw that I should find it a difficult task to gain those favours which she had granted to Coudert; her repentance had been too bitter for her to expose herself to the same danger over again.
The peasant woman returned, laid the table for two, and brought us our supper. Everything was new--napkins, plates, glasses, spoons, knives, etc., and everything was exquisitely clean. The wines were excellent, and the dishes delightful in their simplicity. We had roast game, fish, cheese with cream, and very good fruit. I spent an hour and a half at supper, and drank two bottles of wine as I talked to the nun, who ate very little.
I was in the highest spirits, and the woman, delighted with my praise of her provision, promised I should be served the same way every evening.
When I was alone with the nun, whose face filled me with such burning recollections, I began to speak of her health, and especially of the inconveniences attached to child-birth. She said she felt quite well, and would be able to return to Chamberi on foot. "The only thing that troubles me is my breasts, but the woman assures me that the milk will recede to-morrow, and that they will then assume their usual shape."
"Allow me to examine them, I know something about it."
She uncovered her bosom, not thinking it would give me any pleasure, but wishing to be polite, without supposing I had any concealed desires.