When you went out, and I told him he was mad, and that you would find him on his knees when you returned, he told me you were in the secret.'
"'If it be a secret, but it seems to me a mere joke:
"'I wished to think so too, but nevertheless it seemed of such weight to me, that I resolved to be silent that I might not be obliged to send you away.'
"'My idea was that you would have been amused, but as you take it seriously I am sorry that I have failed in my strict duty.'
"So weak is a woman in love that in this explanation which should have shewn me the servant's fault in all its enormity I only saw a full justification. In fact she had given peace to my heart, but my mind was still uneasy. I knew that there was a young Count d'Al---- belonging to a noble family, but almost penniless. All he had was the minister's patronage, and the prospect of good State employments. The notion that Heaven meant me to remedy the deficiencies in his fortune made me fall into a sweet reverie, and at last I found myself deciding that my maid who put it all down as a jest had more wit than I. I blamed myself for my scrupulous behaviour, which seemed no better than prudery. My love was stronger than I thought, and this is my best excuse, besides I had no one to guide or counsel me.
"But after sunshine comes shadow. My soul was like the ebb and tide of the sea, now in the heights and now in the depths. The resolve, which the count seemed to have taken, to see me no more, either shewed him to be a man of little enterprise or little love, and this supposition humiliated me. 'If,' I said to myself, 'the count is offended with me for calling him a madman, he can have no delicacy and no discretion; he is unworthy of my love.'
"I was in this dreadful state of uncertainty when my maid took upon herself to write to the count that he could come and see me under the same diguise. He followed her advice, and one fine morning the crafty maid came into my chamber laughing, and told me that the lace- seller was in the next room. I was moved exceedingly, but restraining myself I began to laugh also, though the affair was no laughing matter for me.
"'Shall I shew her in? said the maid.
"'Are you crazy?
"Shall I send her away?
"'No, I will go and speak to him myself.'
"This day was a memorable one. My maid left the room now and again, and we had plenty of time to disclose our feelings to one another. I frankly confessed that I loved him, but added that it were best that I should forget him, as it was not likely that my relations would consent to our marriage. In his turn he told me that the minister having resolved to send him to England, he would die of despair unless he carried with him the hope of one day possessing me, for he said he loved me too well to live without me. He begged me to allow him to come and see me under the same disguise, and though I could not refuse him anything I said that we might be discovered.
"'It is enough for me,' he replied, tenderly, 'that you will incur no danger, my visits will be set down to the account of your maid.'
"'But I am afraid for you,' I replied, 'your disguise is a crime in itself; your reputation will suffer, and that will not tend to bring the wish of your heart nearer.'
"In spite of my objections, my heart spoke in his favour, and he pleaded so well and promised to be so discreet that at last I said I would see him gladly whenever he liked to come.
"Count Al---- is twenty-two, and is shorter than I; he is small- boned, and in his disguise as a lace-seller it was hard to recognize him, even by his voice, which is very soft. He imitated the gestures and ways of women to perfection, and not a few women would be only too glad to be like him.
"Thus for nearly three months the disguised count came to see me three or four times a week, always in my maid's room, and mostly in her presence. But even if we had been perfectly alone his fear of my displeasure was too great to allow him to take the slightest liberties.