She had all the appearances of modesty and noble birth, and something of virginal innocence, which inspired one with attachment and respect at the same time.
"I hope you can speak French madam?" I began.
"Yes, and a little Italian too."
"I congratulate myself on having you for my travelling companion."
"I think you should congratulate me."
"I heard you came to Sienna on horseback."
"Yes, but I will never do such a foolish thing again." "I think your husband would have been wise to sell his horse and buy a carriage."
"He hired it; it does not belong to him. From Rome we are going to drive to Naples."
"You like travelling?"
"Very much, but with greater comfort."
With these words the English girl, whose white skin did not look as if it could contain a drop of blood, blushed most violently.
I guessed something of her secret, and begged pardon; and for more than an hour I remain silent, pretending to gaze at the scenery, but in reality thinking of her, for she began to inspire me with a lively interest.
Though the position of my young companion was more than equivocal, I determined to see my way clearly before I took any decisive step; and I waited patiently till we got to Bon Couvent, where we expected to dine and meet the husband.
We got there at ten o'clock.
In Italy the carriages never go faster than a walk; a man on foot can outstrip them, as they rarely exceed three miles an hour. The tedium of a journey under such circumstances is something dreadful, and in the hot months one has to stop five or six hours in the middle of the day to avoid falling ill.
My coachman said he did not want to go beyond St. Quirico, where there was an excellent inn, that night, so he proposed waiting at Bon Couvent till four o'clock. We had therefore six hours wherein to rest.
The English girl was astonished at not finding her husband, and looked for him in all directions. I noticed her, and asked the landlord what had become of him. He informed us that he had breakfasted and baited his horse, and had then gone on, leaving word that he would await us at St. Quirico and order supper there.
I thought it all very strange, but I said nothing. The poor girl begged me to excuse her husband's behaviour.
"He has given me a mark of his confidence, madam, and there is nothing to be offended at."
The landlord asked me if the vetturino paid my expenses, and I answered in the negative; and the girl then told him to ask the vetturino if he was paying for her.
The man came in, and to convince the lady that providing her with meals was not in the contract, he gave her a paper which she handed to me to read. It was signed "Comte de l'Etoile."
When she was alone with me my young companion begged me only to order dinner for myself.
I understood her delicacy, and this made her all the dearer to me.
"Madame," said I, "you must please look upon me as an old friend. I guess you have no money about you, and that you wish to fast from motives of delicacy. Your husband shall repay me, if he will have it so. If I told the landlord to only prepare dinner for myself I should be dishonouring the count, yourself possibly, and myself most of all."
"I feel you are right sir. Let dinner be served for two, then; but I cannot eat, for I feel ill, and I hope you will not mind my lying on the bed for a moment."
"Pray do not let me disturb you. This is a pleasant room, and they can lay the table in the next. Lie down, and sleep if you can, and I will order dinner to be ready by two. I hope you will be feeling better by then."
I left her without giving her time to answer, and went to order dinner.
I had ceased to believe the Frenchman to be the beautiful Englishwoman's husband, and began to think I should have to fight him.
The case, I felt certain, was one of elopement and seduction; and, superstitious as usual, I was sure that my good genius had sent me in the nick of time to save her and care for her, and in short to snatch her from the hands of her infamous deceiver.