After I had kept this unusual silence for a quarter of an hour the simple Armelline made me worse by saying that I must calm myself, as I might be sure that the young man's compliment had not given her the slightest pleasure. She did not see that by saying this she made me feel that the compliment had had the directly opposite effect.
I said that I had hoped he had pleased her.
To finish the matter up, she said by way of soothing me that the young man did not mean to vex me, as he doubtless took me for her father.
What could I reply to this observation, as cruel as it was reasonable? Nothing; I could only take refuge in silence and a fit of childish ill- humour.
At last I could bear it no longer, and begged the two girls to come away with me.
The second act was just over, and if I had been in my right senses I should never have made them such an unreasonable request; but the crassness of my proceedings did not strike me till the following day.
In spite of the strangeness of my request they merely exchanged glances and got ready to go. Not knowing what better excuse to give I told them I did not want the princess's carriage to be noticed as everyone left the theatre, and that I would bring them again to the theatre the following day.
I would not let Armelline put her head inside the Marchioness d'Aout's box, and so we went out. I found the man who accompanied the carriage talking to one of his mates at the door of the theatre, and this made me think that the princess had come to the opera.
We got down at the inn, and I whispered to the man to take his horses home and to call for us at three o'clock; for the cold was intense, and both horses and men had to be considered.
We began by sitting down in front of a roaring fire, and for half an hour we did nothing but eat oysters, which were opened in our presence by a clever waiter, who took care not to lose a drop of the fluid. As quick as he opened we ate, and the laughter of the girls, who talked of how we had eaten them before, caused my anger to gradually disappear.
In Armelline's gentleness I saw the goodness of her heart, and I was angry with myself for my absurd jealousy of a man who was much more calculated to please a young girl than I.
Armelline drank champagne, and stole occasional glances in my direction as if to entreat me to join them in their mirth.
Emilie spoke of her marriage, and without saying anything about my projected visit to Civita Vecchia I promised that her future husband should have his plenary dispensation before very long. While I spoke I kissed Armelline's fair hands, and she looked at me as if thankful for the return of my affection.
The oysters and champagne had their natural effect, and we had a delightful supper. We had sturgeon and some delicious truffles, which I enjoyed not so much for my own sake as for the pleasure with which my companions devoured them.
A man in love is provided with a kind of instinct which tells him that the surest way to success is to provide the beloved object with pleasures that are new to her.
When Armelline saw me become gay and ardent once more she recognized her handiwork, and was doubtless proud of the power she exercised over me. She took my hand of her own accord, and continued gazing into my eyes. Emilie was occupied in the enjoyment of the meal, and did not trouble herself about our behaviour. Armelline was so tender and loving that I made sure of victory after we had had some more oysters and a bowl of punch.
When the dessert, the fifty oysters, and all the materials for making the punch were on the table, the waiter left the room, saying that the ladies would find every requisite in the neighbouring apartment.
The room was small, and the fire very hot, and I bade the two friends arrange their dress more comfortably.
Their dresses fitted their figures, and were trimmed with fur and stiffened with whalebones, so they went into the next room, and came back in white bodices and short dimity petticoats, laughing at the slightness of their attire.