They listened to what was said, and hung on Marcoline's lips.
After the first course there was greater unison in the company, and M. Morosini told Marcoline that if she would return to Venice she would be sure of finding a husband worthy of her.
"I must be the judge of that," said she.
"Yes, but it is a good thing to have recourse to the advice of discreet persons who are interested in the happiness of both parties."
"Excuse me, but I do not think so. If I ever marry, my husband will have to please me first."
"Who has taught you this maxim?" said Querini.
"My uncle, Casanova, who has, I verily believe, taught me everything that can be learnt in the two months I have been happy enough to live with him."
"I congratulate the master and the pupil, but you are both too young to have learnt all the range of science. Moral science cannot be learnt in two months."
"What his excellency has just said," said I, turning to Marcoline, "is perfectly correct. In affairs of marriage both parties should rely to a great extent on the advice of friends, for mere marriages of inclination are often unhappy."
"That is a really philosophical remark, my dear Marcoline," said Querini; "but tell me the qualities which in your opinion are desirable in a husband."
"I should be puzzled to name them, but they would all become manifest in the man that pleased me."
"And supposing he were a worthless fellow?"
"He would certainly not please me, and that's the reason why I have made up my mind never to marry a man whom I have not studied."
"Supposing you made a mistake?"
"Then I would weep in secret."
"How if you were poor?"
"She need never fear poverty, my lord," said I. "She has an income of fifty crowns a month for the remainder of her life."
"Oh, that's a different matter. If that is so, sweetheart, you are privileged. You will be able to live at Venice in perfect independence."
"I think that to live honourably there I only need the protection of a lord like your excellency."
"As to that, Marcoline, I give you my word that I will do all in my power for you if you come to Venice. But let me ask you one question, how are you sure of your income of fifty crowns a month? You are laughing."
"I laugh because I am such a silly little thing. I don't have any heed for my own business. My friend there will tell you all about it."
"You have not been joking, have you?" said the worthy old man to me.
"Marcoline," said I, "has not only capital which will produce a larger sum than that which I have named, but she has also valuable possessions. Your excellency will note her wisdom in saying that she would need your lordship's protection at Venice, for she will require someone to look after the investment of her capital. The whole amount is in my hands, and if she likes Marcoline can have it all in less than two hours."
"Very good; then you must start for Venice the day after to-morrow. Mattio is quite ready to receive you."
"I have the greatest respect and love for my uncle, but it is not to his care that your excellency must commend me if I resolve to go."
"Then to whom?"
"To your own care, my lord. Your excellency has called me dear daughter two or three times, lead me, then, to Venice, like a good father, and I will come willingly; otherwise I protest I will not leave the man to whom I owe all I have. I will start for London with him the day after to-morrow."
At these words which delighted me silence fell on all. They waited for M. Querini to speak, and the general opinion seemed to be that he had gone too far to be able to draw back. Nevertheless, the old man kept silence; perhaps in his character of devotee he was afraid of being led into temptation, or of giving occasion to scandal, and the other guests were silent like him, and ate to keep each other in countenance. Mattio's hand trembled as he waited; Marcoline alone was calm and collected. Dessert was served, and still no one dared to say a word. All at once this wonderful girl said, in an inspired voice, as if speaking to herself,--
"We must adore the decrees of Divine Providence, but after the issue, since mortals are not able to discern the future, whether it be good or whether it be evil."
"What does that reflection relate to, my dear daughter?" said M. Querini, "and why do you kiss my hand now?"
"I kiss your hand because you have called me your dear daughter for the fourth time."
This judicious remark elicited a smile of approval from all, and restored the general gaiety; but M.