You ought to have told me that you loved me and subdued me by those attentions which conquer the hearts of us women. Then you would have seen that I loved you too, and our affection would have been mutual. On my side I should have known that the pleasure you had of me was not given out of a mere feeling of gratitude. I do not know whether you would have loved me less the morning after, if I had consented, but I am sure I should have lost your esteem."
She was right, and I applauded her sentiments, while giving her to understand that she was to put all notions of benefits received out of her mind. I wanted to make her see that I knew that there was no more need for gratitude on her side than mine.
We spent a night that must be imagined rather than described. She told me in the morning that she felt all had been for the best, as if she had given way at first she could never have made up her mind to accept the young Genoese, though he seemed likely to make her happy.
Marcoline came to see us in the morning, caressed us, and promised to sleep by herself the rest of the voyage.
"Then you are not jealous?" said I.
"No, for her happiness is mine too, and I know she will make you happy."
She became more ravishingly beautiful every day.
Possano and the abbe came in just as we were sitting down to table, and my niece having ordered two more plates I allowed them to dine with us. My brother's face was pitiful and yet ridiculous. He could not walk any distance, so he had been obliged to come on horseback, probably for the first time in his life.
"My skin is delicate," said he, "so I am all blistered. But God's will be done! I do not think any of His servants have endured greater torments than mine during this journey. My body is sore, and so is my soul."
So saying he cast a piteous glance at Marcoline, and we had to hold our sides to prevent ourselves laughing. My niece could bear it no more, and said,--
"How I pity you, dear uncle!"
At this he blushed, and began to address the most absurd compliments to her, styling her "my dear niece." I told him to be silent, and not to speak French till he was able to express himself in that equivocal language without making a fool of himself. But the poet Pogomas spoke no better than he did.
I was curious to know what had happened at Mentone after we had left, and Pogomas proceeded to tell the story.
"When we came back from our walk we were greatly astonished not to find the felucca any more. We went to the inn, where I knew you had ordered dinner; but the inn-keeper knew nothing except that he was expecting the prince and a young officer to dine with you. I told him he might wait for you in vain, and just then the prince came up in a rage, and told the inn-keeper that now you were gone he might look to you for his payment. 'My lord,' said the inn-keeper, 'the gentleman wanted to pay me, but I respected the orders I had received from your highness and would not take the money.' At this the prince flung him a louis with an ill grace, and asked us who we were. I told him that we belonged to you, and that you had not waited for us either, which put us to great trouble. 'You will get away easily enough,' said he; and then he began to laugh, and swore the jest was a pleasant one. He then asked me who the ladies were. I told him that the one was your niece, and that I knew nothing of the other; but the abbe interfered, and said she was your cuisine. The prince guessed he meant to say 'cousin,' and burst out laughing, in which he was joined by the young officer. 'Greet him from me,' said he, as he went away, 'and tell him that we shall meet again, and that I will pay him out for the trick he has played me.' "The worthy host laughed, too, when the prince had gone, and gave us a good dinner, saying that the prince's Louis would pay for it all. When we had dined we hired two horses, and slept at Nice. In the morning we rode on again, being certain of finding you here." Marcoline told the abbe in a cold voice to take care not to tell anyone else that she was his cuisine, or his cousin, or else it would go ill with him, as she did not wish to be thought either the one or the other.