He offered his arm to Rosalie, and treated her with the consideration she deserved for her appearance and the good sense of her questions. The commandant accepted my invitation to dinner, at which Rosalie spoke to the point though not to excess, and received the polite compliments of our worthy guest with much grace. In the afternoon he took us over the arsenal, and after having him to dinner could not refuse his invitation to supper. There was no difficulty about Rosalie; the commandant introduced her immediately to his wife, his daughter, and his son. I was delighted to see that her manner with ladies even surpassed her manner with gentlemen. She was one of Nature's own ladies. The commandant's wife and daughter caressed her again and again, and she received their attentions with that modest sensibility which is the seal of a good education.
They asked me to dinner the next day, but I was satisfied with what I had seen, so I took leave, intending to start on the morrow.
When we got back to the inn I told her how pleased I was with her, and she threw her arms round my neck for joy.
"I am always afraid," said she, "of being asked who I am."
"You needn't be afraid, dearest; in France no gentleman or lady would think of asking such a question."
"But if they did, what ought I to do?"
"You should make use of an evasion."
"What's an evasion?"
"A way of escaping from a difficulty without satisfying impertinent curiosity."
"Give me an example."
"Well, if such a question were asked you, you might say, 'You had better ask this gentleman.'"
"I see, the question is avoided; but is not that impolite?"
"Yes; but not so impolite as to ask an embarrassing question."
"And what would you say if the question was passed on to you?"
"Well, my answer would vary in a ratio with the respect in which I held the questioner. I would not tell the truth, but I should say something. And I am glad to see you attentive to my lessons. Always ask questions, and you will always find me ready to answer, for I want to teach you. And now let us to bed; we have to start for Antibes at an early hour, and love will reward you for the pleasure you have given me to-day."
At Antibes I hired a felucca to take me to Genoa, and as I intended to return by the same route I had my carriage warehoused for a small monthly payment. We started early with a good wind, but the sea becoming rough, and Rosalie being mortally afraid, I had the felucca rowed into Villafranca, where I engaged a carriage to take me to Nice. The weather kept us back for three days, and I felt obliged to call on the commandant, an old officer named Peterson.
He gave me an excellent reception, and after the usual compliments had passed, said,--
"Do you know a Russian who calls himself Charles Ivanoff?"
"I saw him once at Grenoble."
"It is said that he has escaped from Siberia, and that he is the younger son of the Duke of Courland."
"So I have heard, but I know no proof of his claim to the title."
"He is at Genoa, where it is said a banker is to give him twenty thousand crowns. In spite of that, no one would give him a sou here, so I sent him to Genoa at my own expense, to rid the place of him."
I felt very glad that the Russian had gone away before my arrival. An officer named Ramini, who was staying at the same inn as myself, asked if I would mind taking charge of a packet which M. de St. Pierre, the Spanish consul, had to send to the Marquis Grimaldi, at Genoa. It was the nobleman I had just seen at Avignon, and I was pleased to execute the commission. The same officer asked me whether I had ever seen a certain Madame Stuard.
"She came here a fortnight ago with a man who calls himself her husband. The poor devils hadn't a penny, and she, a great beauty, enchanted everybody, but would give no one a smile or a word."
"I have both seen and know her," I answered. "I furnished her with the means to come here. How could she leave Nice without any money?"
"That's just what no one can understand.