In the meanwhile I feel sure that if she loved me as I loved her, we should be of one mind."
"We have duties which seem to press lightly on you."
"Then be faithful to your duties, and permit a man of honour to respect them by visiting you no more."
Armelline then appeared. I thought her changed.
"Why do you look so grave and pale?"
"Because you have grieved me."
"Come then, be gay once more, and allow me to cure myself of a passion, the essence of which is to induce you to fail in your duty. I shall be still your friend, and I shall come to see you once a week while I remain in Rome."
"Once a week! You needn't have begun by coming once a day."
"You are right; it was your kind expression which deceived me, but I hope you will allow me to become rational again. For this to happen, I must try not to see you more than I can help. Think over it, and you will see that I am doing all for the best."
"It's very hard that you can't love me as I love you."
"You mean calmly, and without desires."
"I don't say that; but holding your desires in check, if they are contrary to the voice of duty."
"I'm too old to learn this method, and it does not seem to me an attractive one. Kindly tell me whether the restraint of your desires gives you much pain?"
"I don't repress my desires when I think of you, I cherish them; I wish you were the Pope, I wish you were my father, that I might caress you in all innocence; in my dreams I wish you could become a girl, so that we might always live happily together."
At this true touch of native simplicity, I could not help smiling.
I told them that I should come in the evening to take them to the Aliberti, and felt in a better humour after my visit, for I could see that there was no art or coquetry in what Armelline said. I saw that she loved me, but would not come to a parley with her love, hence her repugnance to granting me her favours; if she once did so, her eyes would be opened. All this was pure nature, for experience had not yet taught her that she ought either to avoid me or to succumb to my affection.
In the evening I called for the two friends to take them to the opera, and I had not long to wait. I was by myself in the carriage, but they evinced no surprise. Emilie conveyed to me the compliments of the superioress, who would be obliged by my calling on her the following day. At the opera I let them gaze at the spectacle which they saw for the first time, and answered whatever questions they put to me. As they were Romans, they ought to have known what a castrato was, nevertheless, Armelline took the wretched individual who sang the prima donna's part for a woman, and pointed to his breast, which was really a fine one.
"Would you dare to sleep in the same bed with him?" I asked.
"No; an honest girl ought always to sleep by herself."
Such was the severity of the education they had received. Everything connected with love was made a mystery of, and treated with a kind of superstitious awe. Thus Armelline had only let me kiss her hands after a long contest, and neither she nor Emilie would allow me to see whether the stockings I had given them fitted well or not. The severe prohibition that was laid on sleeping with another girl must have made them think that to shew their nakedness to a companion would be a great sin, and let a man see their beauties a hideous crime. The very idea of such a thing must have given them a shudder.
Whenever I had attempted to indulge in conversation which was a little free, I had found them deaf and dumb.
Although Emilie was a handsome girl in spite of her pallor, I did not take sufficient interest in her to try to dissipate her melancholy; but loving Armelline to desperation I was cut to the quick to see her look grave when I asked her if she had any idea of the difference between the physical conformation of men and women.
As we were leaving Armelline said she was hungry, as she had scarcely eaten anything for the last week on account of the grief I had given her.