I was astonished and delighted at the trust he put in me, and at the really magnificent hospitality (it must be remembered all things are relative) with which I had been treated in the castle.
I told Clairmont to be quick about putting my hair in curl-papers, for I was tired and in need of rest, but he was only half-way through the operation when I was agreeably surprised by the apparition of Clementine.
"Sir," said she, "as we haven't got a maid to look after your linen, I have come to beg you to let me undertake that office."
"You! my dear countess?"
"Yes, I, sir, and I hope you will make no objection. It will be a pleasure to me, and I hope to you as well. Let me have the shirt you are going to wear to-morrow, and say no more about it."
"Very good, it shall be as you please."
I helped Clairmont to carry my linen trunk into her room, and added,--
"Every day I want a shirt, a collar, a front, a pair of drawers, a pair of stocking, and two handkerchiefs; but I don't mind which you take, and leave the choice to you as the mistress, as I wish you were in deed and truth. I shall sleep a happier sleep than Jove himself. Farewell, dear Hebe!"
Her sister Eleanore was already in bed, and begged pardon for her position. I told Clairmont to go to the count directly, and inform him that I had changed my mind about the locks. Should I be afraid for my poor properties when these living treasures were confined to me so frankly? I should have been afraid of offending them.
I had an excellent bed, and I slept wonderfully. Clairmont was doing my hair when my youthful Hebe presented herself with a basket in her hands. She wished me good day and said she hoped I would be contented with her handiwork. I gazed at her delightedly, no trace of false shame appeared on her features. The blush on her cheeks was a witness of the pleasure she experienced in being useful--a pleasure which is unknown to those whose curse is their pride, the characteristic of fools and upstarts. I kissed her hand and told her that I had never seen linen so nicely done.
Just then the count came in and thanked Clementine for attending on me. I approved of that, but he accompanied his thanks with a kiss which was well received, and this I did not approve of at all. But you will say they were brother-in-law and sister-in-law? Just so, but I was jealous all the same. Nature is allwise, and it was nature that made me jealous. When one loves and has not as yet gained possession, jealousy is inevitable; the heart must fear lest that which it longs for so be carried away by another.
The count took a note from his pocket and begged me to read it. It came from his cousin the abbe, who begged the count to apologize to me for him if he was unable to pay the twenty sequins he had lost to me in the proper time, but that he would discharge his debt in the course of the week.
"Very good! Tell him that he can pay when he likes, but warn him not to play this evening. I will not take his bets."
"But you would have no objection to his punting with ready money."
"Certainly I should, unless he pays me first, otherwise he would be punting with my money. Of course it's a mere trifle, and I hope he won't trouble himself in the least or put himself to any inconvenience to pay it."
"I am afraid he will be mortified."
"So much the better," said Clementine; "what did he play for, when he knew that he could not pay his debts if he incurred any? It will be a lesson to him."
This outburst was balm to my heart. Such is man--a mere selfish egotist, when passion moves him.
The count made no reply, but left us alone.
"My dear Clementine, tell me frankly whether the rather uncivil way in which I have treated the abbe has pained you. I am going to give you twenty sequins, do you send them to him, and to-night he can pay me honourably, and make a good figure. I promise you no one shall know about it."
"Thank you, but the honour of the abbe is not dear enough to me for me to accept your offer.