"I am sure you are too sensible to find anything wrong in that," I added.
Emilie was astonished at the proposition, and thought it over. Armelline gazed at her anxiously, as if curious as to how she would answer me.
"Why don't you ask Armelline?" she said at length.
"Do you give him one first," said Armelline, "and if you have the courage I will try to do the same."
"What courage do you want? It's a child's game; there's no harm in it."
After this reply, I was sure of victory. I placed the shell on the edge of her lips, and after a good deal of laughing she sucked in the oyster, which she held between her lips. I instantly recovered it by placing my lips on hers.
Armelline clapped her hands, telling Emilie that she would never have thought her so brave; she then imitated her example, and was delighted with my delicacy in sucking away the oyster, scarcely touching her lips with mine. My agreeable surprise may be imagined when I heard her say that it was my turn to hold the oysters. It is needless to say that I acquitted myself of the duty with much delight.
After these pleasant interludes we went to drinking punch and swallowing oysters.
We all sat in a row with our backs to the fire, and our brains began to whirl, but never was there such a sweet intoxication. However, the punch was not finished and we were getting very hot. I took off my coat, and they were obliged to unlace their dresses, the bodices of which were lined with fur. Guessing at necessities which they did not dare to mention, I pointed out a closet where they could make themselves comfortable, and they went in hand-in-hand. When they came out they were no longer timid recluses, they were shrieking with laughter, and reeling from side to side.
I was their screen as we sat in front of the fire, and I gazed freely on charms which they could no longer conceal. I told them that we must not think of going till the punch was finished, and they agreed, saying, in high glee, that it would be a great sin to leave so good a thing behind.
I then presumed so far as to tell them that they had beautiful legs, and that I should be puzzled to assign the prize between them. This made them gayer than ever, for they had not noticed that their unlaced bodices and short petticoats let me see almost everything.
After drinking our punch to the dregs, we remained talking for half an hour, while I congratulated myself on my self-restraint. Just as we were going I asked them if they had any grounds of complaint against me. Armelline replied that if I would adopt her as my daughter she was ready to follow me to the end of the world. "Then you are not afraid of my turning you from the path of duty?"
"No, I feel quite safe with you."
"And what do you say, dear Emilie?"
"I shall love you too, when you do for me what the superioress will tell you to-morrow."
"I will do anything, but I shan't come to speak to her till the evening, for it is three o'clock now."
They laughed all the louder, exclaiming,--
"What will the mother say?"
I paid the bill, gave something to the waiter, and took them back to the convent, where the porteress seemed well enough pleased with the new rules when she saw two sequins in her palm.
It was too late to see the superioress, so I drove home after rewarding the coachman and the lackey.
Margarita was ready to scratch my eyes out if I could not prove my fidelity, but I satisfied her by quenching on her the fires Armelline and the punch had kindled. I told her I had been kept by a gaming party, and she asked no more questions.
The next day I amused the princess and the cardinal by a circumstantial account of what had happened.
"You missed your opportunity," said the princess.
"I don't think so," said the cardinal, "I believe, on the contrary, that he has made his victory more sure for another time."
In the evening, I went to the convent where the superioress gave me her warmest welcome. She complimented me on having amused myself with the two girls till three o'clock in the morning without doing anything wrong. They had told her how we had eaten the oysters, and she said it was an amusing idea.