As for me I will have nothing to do with it, lest the cure be worse than the disease."
"But you need not follow your advice unless you like it."
"No, one is free to act as one thinks fit; but not to follow the advice of the oracle would be a contempt of the intelligence which directs it."
Esther could say no more, and stood silent for several minutes, and then said that if I like she would stay with me for the rest of the day. The joy which illumined my countenance was manifest, and I said that if she would stay to dinner I would get up, and no doubt her presence would give me an appetite. "Ah!" said she, "I will make you the dish you are so fond of." She ordered the sedan-chairs to be sent back, and went to my landlady to order an appetising repast, and to procure the chafing-dish and the spirits of wine she required for her own cooking.
Esther was an angel, a treasure, who consented to become mine if I would communicate to her a science which did not exist. I felt that I was looking forward to spending a happy day; this shewed me that I could forget Manon, and I was delighted with the idea. I got out of bed, and when Esther came back and found me on my feet she gave a skip of pleasure. "Now," said she, "you must oblige me by dressing, and doing your hair as if you were going to a ball."
"That," I answered, "is a funny idea, but as it pleases you it pleases me."
I rang for Le Duc, and told him I wanted to have my hair done, and to be dressed as if I were going to a ball. "Choose the dress that suits me best."
"No," said Esther, "I will choose it myself."
Le Duc opened my trunk, and leaving her to rummage in it he came to shave me, and to do my hair. Esther, delighted with her task, called in the assistance of her governess. She put on my bed a lace shirt, and the suit she found most to her taste. Then coming close, as if to see whether Le Duc was dressing my hair properly, she said,
"A little broth would do you good; send for a dish, it will give you an appetite for dinner."
I thought her advice dictated by the tenderest care, and I determined to benefit by it. So great was the influence of this charming girl over me, that, little by little, instead of loving Manon, I hated her. That gave me courage, and completed my cure. At the present time I can see that Manon was very wise in accepting Blondel's offer, and that my love for self and not my love for her was wounded.
I was in my servant's hands, my face turned away towards the fire, so that I could not see Esther, but only divert myself with the idea that she was inspecting my belongings, when all at once she presented herself with a melancholy air, holding Mamon's fatal letter in her hand.
"Am I to blame," said she, timidly, "for having discovered the cause of your sorrow?"
I felt rather taken aback, but looking kindly at her, I said,
"No, no, my dear Esther; pity your friend, and say no more about it."
"Then I may read all the letters?"
"Yes, dearest, if it will amuse you."
All the letters of the faithless Manon Baletti to me, with mine to her, were together on my table. I pointed them out to Esther, who begun to read them quite eagerly.
When I was dressed, as if for some Court holiday, Le Duc went out and left us by ourselves, for the worthy governess, who was working at her lace by the window, looked at her lace, and nothing else. Esther said that nothing had ever amused her so much as those letters.
"Those cursed epistles, which please you so well, will be the death of me."
"Death? Oh, no! I will cure you, I hope."
"I hope so, too; but after dinner you must help me to burn them all from first to last."
"Burn them! No; make me a present of them. I promise to keep them carefully all my days."
"They are yours, Esther. I will send them to you to-morrow."
These letters were more than two hundred in number, and the shortest were four pages in length. She was enchanted to find herself the possessor of the letters, and she said she would make them into a parcel and take them away herself.