This is a new kindness which I owe to the goodness of your heart. I will write to you at whatever address you send me. If you like Veronique, my darling, do not fear any jealousy from me; I should be wrong to entertain such a feeling in my present position. I expect that if you make much of her she will not be able to resist, and I shall be glad to hear that she is lessening your sadness. I hope you will write me a few lines before you go."
I went up to the marquis and told him to read it. He seemed greatly moved.
"Yes," said he, "the dear girl will find in me her friend and father, and if she marries my godson and he does not treat her as he ought, he will not possess her long. I shall remember her in my will, and thus when I am dead my care will still continue. But what do you think of her advice as to Veronique? I don't expect she is exactly a vestal virgin, though I have never heard anything against her."
I had ordered that the table should be laid for four, so Annette sat down without our having to ask her. Le Duc appeared on the scene, and I told him that if he were ill he might go to bed.
"I am quite well," said he.
"I am glad to hear it; but don't trouble now, you shall wait on me when I am at Leghorn."
I saw that Veronique was delighted at my sending him away, and I resolved then and there to lay siege to her heart. I began by talking to her in a very meaning manner all supper-time, while the marquis entertained Annette. I asked him if he thought I could get a felucca next day to take me to Lerici.
"Yes," said he, "whenever you like and with as many oarsmen as you please; but I hope you will put off your departure for two or three days."
"No," I replied, ogling Veronique, "the delay might cost me too dear."
The sly puss answered with a smile that shewed she understood my meaning.
When we rose from the table I amused myself with Annette, and the marquis with Veronique. After a quarter of an hour he came and said to me,--
"Certain persons have asked me to beg you to stay a few days longer, or at least to sup here to-morrow night."
"Very good. We will talk of the few days more at supper to- morrow."
"Victory!" said the marquis; and Veronique seemed very grateful to me for granting her request. When our guest was gone, I asked my new housekeeper if I might send Costa to bed.
"As my sister is with me, there can be no ground for any suspicion."
"I am delighted that you consent; now I am going to talk to you."
She proceeded to do my hair, but she gave no answer to my soft speeches. When I was on the point of getting into bed she wished me good night, and I tried to kiss her by way of return. She repulsed me and ran to the door, much to my surprise. She was going to leave the room, when I addressed her in a voice of grave politeness.
"I beg you will stay; I want to speak to you; come and sit by me. Why should you refuse me a pleasure which after all is a mere mark of friendship?"
"Because, things being as they are, we could not remain friends, neither could we be lovers."
"Lovers! why not, we are perfectly free"
"I am not free; I am bound by certain prejudices which do not trouble you."
"I should have thought you were superior to prejudices."
"There are some prejudices which a woman ought to respect. The superiority you mention is a pitiful thing; always the dupe of itself. What would become of me, I should like to know, if I abandoned myself to the feelings I have for you?"
"I was waiting for you to say that, dear Veronique. What you feel for me is not love. If it were so, you would feel as I do, and you would soon break the bonds of prejudice."
"I confess that my head is not quite turned yet, but still I feel that I shall grieve at your departure."
"If so, that is no fault of mine. But tell me what I can do for you during my short stay here."
"Nothing; we do not know one another well enough."
"I understand you, but I would have you know that I do not intend to marry any woman who is not my friend."
"You mean you will not marry her till you have ceased to be her lover?"
"You would like to finish where I would begin."
"You may be happy some day, but you play for high stakes."
"Well, well, it's a case of win all or lose all."
"That's as may be.