As soon as my niece saw me, she exclaimed,--
"My dear uncle, would you believe it? This sly Venetian has violated me."
Marcoline understood her, and far from denying the fact proceeded to give my niece fresh marks of her affection, which were well received, and from the movements of the sheets which covered them I could make a pretty good guess as to the nature of their amusement.
"This is a rude shock to the respect which your uncle has had for your prejudices," said I.
"The sports of two girls cannot tempt a man who has just left the arms of Annette."
"You are wrong, and perhaps you know it, for I am more than tempted."
With these words I lifted the sheets of the bed. Marcoline shrieked but did not move, but my niece earnestly begged me to replace the bed-clothes. However, the picture before me was too charming to be concealed.
At this point Annette came in, and in obedience to her mistress replaced the coverlet over the two Bacchantes. I felt angry with Annette, and seizing her threw her on the bed, and then and there gave the two sweethearts such an interesting spectacle that they left their own play to watch us. When I had finished, Annette, who was in high glee; said I was quite right to avenge myself on their prudery. I felt satisfied with what I had done, and went to breakfast. I then dressed, and visited my brother.
"How is Marcoline?" said he, as soon as he saw me.
"Very well, and you needn't trouble yourself any more about her. She is well lodged, well dressed, and well fed, and sleeps with my niece's maid."
"I didn't know I had a niece."
"There are many things you don't know. In three or four days she will return to Venice."
"I hope, dear brother, that you will ask me to dine with you to-day."
"Not at all, dear brother. I forbid you to set foot in my house, where your presence would be offensive to Marcoline, whom you must not see any more."
"Yes, I will; I will return to Venice, if I have to hang for it."
"What good would that be? She won't have you."
"She loves me."
"She beats you."
"She beats me because she loves me. She will be as gentle as a lamb when she sees me so well dressed. You do not know how I suffer."
"I can partly guess, but I do not pity you, for you are an impious and cruel fool. You have broken your vows, and have not hesitated to make a young girl endure misery and degradation to satisfy your caprice. What would you have done, I should like to know, if I had given you the cold shoulder instead of helping you?"
"I should have gone into the street, and begged for my living with her."
"She would have beaten you, and would probably have appealed to the law to get rid of you."
"But what will you do for me, if I let her go back to Venice without following her."
"I will take you to France, and try to get you employed by some bishop."
"Employed! I was meant by nature to be employed by none but God."
"You proud fool! Marcoline rightly called you a whiner. Who is your God? How do you serve Him? You are either a hypocrite or an idiot. Do you think that you, a priest, serve God by decoying an innocent girl away from her home? Do you serve Him by profaning the religion you do not even understand? Unhappy fool! do you think that with no talent, no theological learning, and no eloquence, you can be a Protestant minister. Take care never to come to my house, or I will have you expelled from Genoa."
"Well, well, take me to Paris, and I will see what my brother Francis can do for me; his heart is not so hard as yours."
"Very good! you shall go to Paris, and we will start from here in three or four days. Eat and drink to your heart's content, but remain indoors; I will let you know when we are going. I shall have my niece, my secretary, and my valet with me. We shall travel by sea."
"The sea makes me sick."
"That will purge away some of your bad humours."
When I got home I told Marcoline what had passed between us.
"I hate him!" said she; "but I forgive him, since it is through him I know you."
"And I forgive him, too, because unless it had been for him I should never have seen you.