Everyone in the inn was asleep. I could not call for help, and all I could do was to dash water in her face, and speak soothing words.
At last she fell asleep, and I remained beside her for more than two hours, attentive to her least movements, and hoping that she would awake strengthened and refreshed.
At day-break I heard l'Etoile going off, and I was glad of it. The people of the inn knocked at our door, and then Betty awoke.
"Are you ready to go, my dear Betty?"
"I am much better, but I should so like a cup of tea."
The Italians cannot make tea, so I took what she gave me, and went to prepare it myself.
When I came back I found her inhaling the fresh morning air at the window. She seemed calm, and I hoped I had cured her. She drank a few cups of tea (of which beverage the English are very fond), and soon regained her good looks.
She heard some people in the room where we had supped, and asked me if I had taken up the purse which I had placed on the table. I had forgotten it completely.
I found my purse and a piece of paper bearing the words, "bill of exchange for three thousand crowns." The impostor had taken it out of his pocket in making his bet, and had forgotten it. It was dated at Bordeaux, drawn on a wine merchant at Paris to l'Etoile's order. It was payable at sight, and was for six months. The whole thing was utterly irregular.
I took it to Betty, who told me she knew nothing about bills, and begged me to say nothing more about that infamous fellow. She then said, in a voice of which I can give no idea,--
"For pity's sake do not abandon a poor girl, more worthy of compassion than blame!"
I promised her again to have all a father's care for her, and soon after we proceeded on our journey.
The poor girl fell asleep, and I followed her example. We were awoke by the vetturino who informed us, greatly to our astonishment, that we were at Monterosi. We had slept for six hours, and had done eighteen miles.
We had to stay at Monterosi till four o'clock, and we were glad of it, for we needed time for reflection.
In the first place I asked about the wretched deceiver, and was told that he had made a slight meal, paid for it, and said he was going to spend the night at La Storta.
We made a good dinner, and Betty plucking up a spirit said we must consider the case of her infamous betrayer, but for the last time.
"Be a father to me," said she; "do not advise but command; you may reckon on my obedience. I have no need to give you any further particulars, for you have guessed all except the horror with which the thought of my betrayer now inspires me. If it had not been for you, he would have plunged me into an abyss of shame and misery."
"Can you reckon on the Englishman forgiving you?"
"I think so."
"Then we must go back to Leghorn. Are you strong enough to follow this counsel? I warn you that if you approve of it, it must be put into execution at once. Young, pretty, and virtuous as you are, you need not imagine that I shall allow you to go by yourself, or in the company of strangers. If you think I love you, and find me worthy of your esteem, that is sufficient regard for me. I will live with you like a father, if you are not in a position to give me marks of a more ardent affection. Be sure I will keep faith with you, for I want to redeem your opinion of men, and to shew you that there are men as honourable as your seducer was vile."
Betty remained for a quarter of an hour in profound silence, her head resting on her elbows, and her eyes fixed on mine. She did not seem either angry or astonished, but as far as I could judge was lost in thought. I was glad to see her reflective, for thus she would be able to give me a decided answer: At last she said:
"You need not think, my dear friend, that my silence proceeds from irresolution. If my mind were not made up already I should despise myself. I am wise enough at any rate to appreciate the wisdom of your generous counsels. I thank Providence that I have fallen into the hands of such a man who will treat me as if I were his daughter."
"Then we will go back to Leghorn, and start immediately."
"My only doubt is how to manage my reconcilliation with Sir B---- M----. I have no doubt he will pardon me eventually; but though he is tender and good-hearted he is delicate where a point of honour is concerned, and Subject to sudden fits of violence.