The next day he came to see us in our box at the theatre, and Marcoline received him very graciously. Wishing to push the matter on I asked him to sup with us, and when he came I was well pleased with his manners and his intelligence; to Marcoline he was tender but respectful. On his departure I told him I hoped he would come and see us again, and when we were alone I congratulated Marcoline on her conquest, and shewed her that she might succeed almost as well as Mdlle. Crosin. But instead of being grateful she was furiously, angry.
"If you want to get rid of me," said she, "send me back to Venice, but don't talk to me about marrying."
"Calm yourself, my angel! I get rid of you? What an idea! Has my behaviour led you to suppose that you are in my way? This handsome, well-educated, and rich young man has come under my notice. I see he loves you and you like him, and as I love you and wish to see you sheltered from the storms of fortune, and as I think this pleasant young Frenchman would make you happy, I have pointed out to you these advantages, but instead of being grateful you scold me. Do not weep, sweetheart, you grieve my very soul!"
"I am weeping because you think that I can love him."
"It might be so, dearest, and without my honour taking any hurt; but let us say no more about it and get into bed."
Marcoline's tears changed to smiles and kisses, and we said no more about the young wine merchant. The next day he came to our box again, but the scene had changed; she was polite but reserved, and I dared not ask him to supper as I had done the night before. When we had got home Marcoline thanked me for not doing so, adding that she had been afraid I would.
"What you said last night is a sufficient guide for me for the future."
In the morning Madame Audibert called on behalf of the wine merchant to ask us to sup with him. I turned towards the fair Venetian, and guessing my thoughts she hastened to reply that she would be happy to go anywhere in company with Madame Audibert. That lady came for us in the evening, and took us to the young man's house, where we found a magnificent supper, but no other guests awaiting us. The house was luxuriously furnished, it only lacked a mistress. The master divided his attention between the two ladies, and Marcoline looked ravishing. Everything convinced me that she had kindled the ardour of the worthy young wine merchant.
The next day I received a note from Madame Audibert, asking me to call on her. When I went I found she wanted to give my consent to the marriage of Marcoline with her friend.
"The proposal is a very agreeable one to me," I answered, "and I would willingly give her thirty thousand francs as a dowry, but I can have nothing to do with the matter personally. I will send her to you; and if you can win her over you may count on my word, but do not say that you are speaking on my behalf, for that might spoil everything."
"I will come for her, and if you like she shall dine with me, and you can take her to the play in the evening."
Madame Audibert came the following day, and Marcoline went to dinner with her. I called for her at five o'clock, and finding her looking pleased and happy I did not know what to think. As Madame Audibert did not take me aside I stifled my curiosity and went with Marcoline to the theatre, without knowing what had passed.
On the way Marcoline sang the praises of Madame Audibert, but did not say a word of the proposal she must have made to her. About the middle of the piece, however, I thought I saw the explanation of the riddle, for the young man was in the pit, and did not come to our box though there were two empty places.
We returned home without a word about the merchant or Madame Audibert, but as I knew in my own mind what had happened, I felt disposed to be grateful, and I saw that Marcoline was overjoyed to find me more affectionate than ever. At last, amidst our amorous assaults, Marcoline, feeling how dearly I loved her, told me what had passed between her and Madame Audibert.