I found myself seated to the left of M---- M----, and totally unable to see her. The fair Desarmoises was at my right, and she entertained us all the time with her amusing stories.
We in the parlour were waited on by Le Duc and Costa, and the nuns were served by their lay-sisters. The abundant provision, the excellent wines, the pleasant though sometimes equivocal conversation, kept us all merrily employed for three hours. Mirth had the mastery over reason, or, to speak more plainly, we were all drunk; and if it had not been for the fatal grill, I could have had the whole eleven ladies without much trouble. The young Desarmoises was so gay, indeed, that if I had not restrained her she would probably have scandalised all the nuns, who would have liked nothing better. I was longing to have her to myself, that I might quench the flame she had kindled in my breast, and I had no doubt of my success on the first attempt. After coffee had been served, we went into another parlour and stayed there till night came on. Madame Morin took leave of her niece, and the hand- shakings, thanks, and promises of remembrance between me and the nuns, lasted for a good quarter of an hour. After I had said aloud to M---- M---- that I hoped to have the pleasure of seeing her before I left, we went back to the inn in high good humour with our curious party which I still remember with pleasure.
Madame Morin gave me a letter for her cousin Madame Varnier, and I promised to write to her from Paris, and tell her all about the fair Mdlle. Roman. I presented the daughter with a beautiful pair of ear-rings, and I gave Madame Morin twelve pounds of good chocolate which M. Magnan got me, and which the lady thought had come from Genoa. She went off at eight o'clock preceded by Le Duc, who had orders to greet the doorkeeper's family on my behalf.
At Magnan's I had a dinner worthy of Lucullus, and I promised to stay with him whenever I passed Chamberi, which promise I have faithfully performed.
On leaving the gourmand's I went to the convent, and M---- M---- came down alone to the grating. She thanked me for coming to see her, and added that I had come to disturb her peace of mind.
"I am quite ready, dearest, to climb the harden wall, and I shall do it more dexterously than your wretched humpback."
"Alas! that may not be, for, trust me, you are already spied upon. Everybody here is sure that we knew each other at Aix. Let us forget all, and thus spare ourselves the torments of vain desires."
"Give me your hand."
"No. All is over. I love you still, probably I shall always love you; but I long for you to go, and by doing so, you will give me a proof of your love."
"This is dreadful; you astonish me. You appear to me in perfect health, you are prettier than ever, you are made for the worship of the sweetest of the gods, and I can't understand how, with a temperament like yours, you can live in continual abstinence."
"Alas! lacking the reality we console ourselves by pretending. I will not conceal from you that I love my young boarder. It is an innocent passion, and keeps my mind calm. Her caresses quench the flame which would otherwise kill me."
"And that is not against your conscience?"
"I do not feel any distress on the subject."
"But you know it is a sin."
"Yes, so I confess it."
"And what does the confessor say?"
"Nothing. He absolves me, and I am quite content:"
"And does the pretty boarder confess, too?"
"Certainly, but she does not tell the father of a matter which she thinks is no sin."
"I wonder the confessor has not taught her, for that kind of instruction is a great pleasure."
"Our confessor is a wise old man."
"Am I to leave you, then, without a single kiss?"
"May I come again to-morrow? I must go the day after."
"You may come, but I cannot see you by myself as the nuns might talk. I will bring my little one with me to save appearances. Come after dinner, but into the other parlour."
If I had not known M---- M---- at Aix, her religious ideas would have astonished me; but such was her character.