In the evening I supped with the two sisters, and I made myself equally agreeable to both of them. When Veronique was alone with me, putting my hair into curl-papers, she said that she loved me much more now that I behaved discreetly.
"My discretion," I replied, "only means that I have given up the hope of winning you. I know how to take my part."
"Your love was not very great, then?"
"It sprang up quickly, and you, Veronique, could have made it increase to a gigantic size."
She said nothing, but bit her lip, wished me good night and left the room. I went to bed expecting a visit from Annette, but I waited in vain. When I rang the next morning the dear girl appeared looking rather sad. I asked her the reason.
"Because my sister is ill, and spent the whole night in writing," said she.
Thus I learnt the reason of her not having paid me a visit.
"Do you know what she was writing about?"
"Oh, no! She does not tell me that kind of thing, but here is a letter for you."
I read through the long and well-composed letter, but as it bore marks of craft and dissimulation it made me laugh. After several remarks of no consequence she said that she had repulsed me because she loved me so much and that she was afraid that if she satisfied my fancy she might lose me.
"I will be wholly yours," she added, "if you will give me the position which Rosalie enjoyed. I will travel in your company, but you must give me a document, which M. de Grimaldi will sign as a witness, in which you must engage to marry me in a year, and to give me a portion of fifty thousand francs; and if at the end of a year you do not wish to marry me, that sum to be at my absolute disposal."
She stipulated also that if she became a mother in the course of a year the child should be hers in the event of our separating. On these conditions she would become my mistress, and would have for me all possible love and kindness.
This proposal, cleverly conceived, but foolishly communicated to me, shewed me that Veronique had not the talent of duping others. I saw directly that M. de Grimaldi had nothing to do with it, and I felt sure that he would laugh when I told him the story.
Annette soon came back with the chocolate, and told me that her sister hoped I would answer her letter.
"Yes, dear," said I, "I will answer her when I get up."
I took my chocolate, put on my dressing-gown, and went to Veronique's room. I found her sitting up in bed in a negligent attire that might have attracted me if her letter had not deprived her of my good opinion. I sat on the bed, gave her back the letter, and said,--
"Why write, when we can talk the matter over?"
"Because one is often more at ease in writing than in speaking."
"In diplomacy and business that will pass, but not in love. Love makes no conditions. Let us have no documents, no safeguards, but give yourself up to me as Rosalie did, and begin to-night without my promising anything. If you trust in love, you will make him your prisoner. That way will honour us and our pleasures, and if you like I will consult M. de Grimaldi on the subject. As to your plan, if it does not injure your honour, it does small justice to your common sense, and no one but a fool would agree to it. You could not possibly love the man to whom you make such a proposal, and as to M. de Grimaldi, far from having anything to do with it, I am sure he would be indignant at the very idea."
This discourse did not put Veronique out of countenance. She said she did not love me well enough to give herself to me unconditionally; to which I replied that I was not sufficiently taken with her charms to buy them at the price she fixed, and so I left her.
I called Costa, and told him to go and warn the master of the felucca that I was going the next day, and with this idea I went to bid good-bye to the marquis, who informed me that he had just been taking Petri to see Rosalie, who had received him well enough. I told him I was glad to hear it, and said that I commended to him the care of her happiness, but such commendations were thrown away.