Her father had given her an excellent education; she spoke French perfectly, played the piano admirably, and was passionately fond of reading.
After dinner M. d'O---- shewed me the uninhabited part of the house, for since the death of his wife, whose memory was dear to him, he lived on the ground floor only. He shewed me a set of rooms where he kept a treasure in the way of old pottery. The walls and windows were covered with plates of marble, each room a different colour, and the floors were of mosaic, with Persian carpets. The dining-hall was cased in alabaster, and the table and the cupboards were of cedar wood. The whole house looked like a block of solid marble, for it was covered with marble without as well as within, and must have cost immense sums. Every Saturday half-a-dozen servant girls, perched on ladders, washed down these splendid walls. These girls wore wide hoops, being obliged to put on breeches, as otherwise they would have interested the passers by in an unseemly manner. After looking at the house we went down again, and M. d'O---- left me alone with Esther in the antechamber, where he worked with his clerks. As it was New Year's Day there was not business going on.
After playing a sonata, Mdlle. d'O---- asked me if I would go to a concert. I replied that, being in her company, nothing could make me stir. "But would you, mademoiselle, like to go?"
"Yes, I should like to go very well, but I cannot go by myself."
"If I might presume to offer to escort you . . . but I dare not think you would accept."
"I should be delighted, and if you were to ask my father I am sure he would not refuse his permission."
"Are you sure of that?"
"Quite sure, for otherwise he would be guilty of impoliteness, and my father would not do such a thing. But I see you don't know the manners of the country."
"I confess I do not:"
"Young ladies enjoy great liberty here--liberty which they lose only by marrying. Go and ask, and you will see:"
I went to M. d'O---- and made my request, trembling lest I should meet with a refusal.
"Have you a carriage?"
"Then I need not give orders to get mine ready. Esther!"
"Go and dress, my dear; M. Casanova has been kind enough to offer to take you to the concert."
"How good of him! Thank you, papa, for letting me go."
She threw her arms around his neck, ran to dress, and reappeared an hour after, as fair as the joy which was expressed on her every feature. I could have wished she had used a little powder, but Esther was jealous of her ebon tresses, which displayed the whiteness of her skin to admiration. The chief aim of women in making their toilette is to please men, but how poor is the judgment of most men in such matters compared to the unerring instinct of the generality of women!
A beautiful lace kerchief veiled her bosom, whose glories made my heart beat faster.
We went down the stair, I helped her into the carriage, and stopped, thinking she would be accompanied by one of her women; but seeing nobody I got in myself. The door was shut, and we were off. I was overwhelmed with astonishment. A treasure like this in my keeping I could hardly think. I asked myself whether I was to remember that I was a free-lance of love, or whether honour bade me forget it. Esther, in the highest spirits, told me that we were going to hear an Italian singer whose voice was exquisite, and noticing my confusion she asked what was the matter. I did not know what to say, and began to stammer out something, but at last succeeded in saying that she was a treasure of whom I was not worthy to be the keeper.
"I know that in other countries a young girl would not be trusted alone with a gentleman, but here they teach us discretion and how to look after ourselves."
"Happy the man who is charged with your welfare, and happier still he on whom your choice has fallen!"
"That choice is not for me to make; 'tis my father's business."
"But supposing your father's choice is not pleasing to you, or supposing you love another?"
"We are not allowed to love a man until we know he is to be our husband."
"Then you are not in love with anyone?"
"No, and I have never felt the desire to love."
"Then I may kiss your hand?"
"Why should you kiss my hand?"
She drew away her hand and offered me her lovely lips.