"I shall only see one beauty," said I, looking at her niece. "God alone knows," said Valenglard, "what people will say in Grenoble!" "They will say it is your wedding ball," said Madame Morin to her niece.
"Yes, and they will doubtless talk of my magnificent dress, my lace, and my diamonds," said the niece, pleasantly.
"They will talk of your beauty, your wit, and your goodness," I replied, passionately, "goodness which will make your husband a happy man."
There was a silence, because they all thought I was alluding to myself. I was doing nothing of the sort. I should have been glad to give five hundred louis for her, but I did not see how the contract was to be drawn up, and I was not going to throw my money away.
We went to my bedroom, and while Mdlle. Roman was amusing herself with looking at the jewellry on my toilette-table, her aunt and Valenglard examined the books on the table by my bedside. I saw Madame Morin going to the window and looking closely at something she held in her hand. I remembered I had left out the portrait of the fair nun. I ran to her and begged her to give me the indecent picture I had so foolishly left about.
"I don't mind the indecency of it," she said, "but what strikes me is the exact likeness."
I understood everything, and I shuddered at the carelessness of which I had been guilty.
"Madam," I said, "that is the portrait of a Venetian, lady, of whom I was very found."
"I daresay, but it's very curious. These two M's, these cast-off robes sacrificed to love, everything makes my surprise greater."
"She is a nun and named M---- M----."
"And a Welsh niece of mine at Camberi is also named M---- M----, and belongs to the same order. Nay, more, she has been at Aix, whence you have come, to get cured of an illness."
"And this portrait is like her?"
"As one drop of water is like another."
"If you go to Chamberi call on her and say you come from me; you will be welcome and you will be as much surprised as I am."
"I will do so, after I have been in Italy. However, I will not shew her this portrait, which would scandalize her; I will put it away carefully."
"I beg you not to shew it to anyone."
"You may rely on me."
I was in an ecstasy at having put her off so effectually.
At eight o'clock all my guests arrived, and I saw before me all the fairest ladies and the noblest gentlemen of Grenoble. The only thing which vexed me was the compliments they lavished on me, as is customary in the provinces.
I opened the ball with the lady pointed out to me by M. Valenglard, and then I danced with all the ladies in succession; but my partner in all the square dances was the fair Mdlle. Roman, who shone from her simplicity--at least, in my eyes.
After a quadrille, in which I had exerted myself a good deal, I felt hot and went up to my room to put on a lighter suit, and as I was doing so, in came the fair cousin, who asked me if I required anything.
"Yes, you, dearest," I replied, going up to her and taking her in my arms. "Did anyone see you coming in here?"
"No, I came from upstairs, and my cousins are in the dancing-room."
"That is capital. You are fair as Love himself, and this is an excellent opportunity for skewing you how much I love you."
"Good heavens! What are you doing? Let me go, somebody might come in. Well, put out the light!"
I put it out, shut the door, and, my head full of Mdlle. Roman, the cousin found me as ardent as I should have been with that delightful person. I confess, too, that the door-keeper's niece was well worthy of being loved on her own merits. I found her perfect, perhaps better than Mdlle. Roman, a novice, would have been. In spite of my ardour her passion was soon appeased, and she begged me to let her go, and I did so; but it was quite time. I wanted to begin over again, but she was afraid that our absence would be noticed by her two Argus-eyed cousins, so she kissed me and left the room.
I went back to the ball-room, and we danced on till the king of door-keepers came to tell us supper was ready.