Then the syndic and I vied with each other in paying her compliments, telling her that we hoped to be her brothers. She blushed, but gave no answer to our gallantries. I then drew forth my casket, and seeing that all the girls were enchanted with the rings, I told them to choose which ones they liked best. The charming Helen imitated their example, and repaid me with a modest kiss. Soon after she left us, and we were once more free, as in old times.
The syndic had good cause to shew for his love of Helen. She was not merely pleasing, she was made to inspire a violent passion. However, the three friends had no hope of making her join in their pleasures, for they said that she had invincible feelings of modesty where men were concerned.
We supped merrily, and after supper we began our sports again, the syndic remaining as usual a mere looker-on, and well pleased with his part. I treated each of the three nymphs to two courses, deceiving them whenever I was forced by nature to do so. At midnight we broke up, and the worthy syndic escorted me to the door of my lodging.
The day following I went to the pastor's and found a numerous party assembled, amongst others M. d'Harcourt and M. de Ximenes, who told me that M. de Voltaire knew that I was at Geneva and hoped to see me. I replied by a profound bow. Mdlle. Hedvig, the pastor's niece, complimented me, but I was still better pleased to see her cousin Helen. The theologian of twenty-two was fair and pleasant to the eyes, but she had not that 'je ne sais quoi', that shade of bitter-sweet, which adds zest to hope as well as pleasure. However, the evident friendship between Hedvig and Helen gave me good hopes of success with the latter.
We had an excellent dinner, and while it lasted the conversation was restricted to ordinary topics; but at dessert the pastor begged M. de Ximenes to ask his niece some questions. Knowing his worldwide reputation, I expected him to put her some problem in geometry, but he only asked whether a lie could be justified on the principle of a mental reservation.
Hedvig replied that there are cases in which a lie is necessary, but that the principle of a mental reservation is always a cheat.
"Then how could Christ have said that the time in which the world was to come to an end was unknown to Him?"
"He was speaking the truth; it was not known to Him."
"Then he was not God?"
"That is a false deduction, for since God may do all things, He may certainly be ignorant of an event in futurity."
I thought the way in which she brought in the word "futurity" almost sublime. Hedvig was loudly applauded, and her uncle went all round the table to kiss her. I had a very natural objection on the tip of my tongue, which she might have found difficult to answer, but I wanted to get into her good graces and I kept my own counsel.
M. d'Harcourt was urged to ask her some questions, but he replied in the words of Horace, 'Nulla mihi religio est'. Then Hedvig turned to me and asked me to put her some hard question, "something difficult, which you don't know yourself."
"I shall be delighted. Do you grant that a god possesses in a supreme degree the qualities of man?"
"Yes, excepting man's weaknesses."
"Do you class the generative power as a weakness?"
"Will you tell me, then, of what nature would have been the offspring of a union between a god and a mortal woman?"
Hedvig looked as red as fire.
The pastor and the other guests looked at each other, while I gazed fixedly at the young theologian, who was reflecting. M. d'Harcourt said that we should have to send for Voltaire to settle a question so difficult, but as Hedvig had collected her thoughts and seemed ready to speak everybody was silent.
"It would be absurd," said she, "to suppose that a deity could perform such an action without its having any results. At the end of nine months a woman would be delivered a male child, which would be three parts man and one part god."
At these words all the guests applauded, M.