As I knew the young boarder from M---- M----'s description, I could not be ignorant of the source of those blushes which added a fresh attraction to her youthful charms.
Pretending not to notice anything, I talked to M---- M---- for a few moments, and then returned to the assault. She had regained her calm.
"What age are you, pretty one?" said I.
"I am thirteen."
"You are wrong," said M---- M----, "you have not yet completed your twelfth year."
"The time will come," said I, "when you will diminish the tale of your years instead of increasing it."
"I shall never tell a lie, sir; I am sure of that."
"So you want to be a nun, do you?"
"I have not yet received my vocation; but even if I live in the world I need not be a liar."
"You are wrong; you will begin to lie as soon as you have a lover."
"Will my lover tell lies, too?"
"Certainly he will."
"If the matter were really so, then, I should have a bad opinion of love; but I do not believe it, for I love my sweetheart here, and I never conceal the truth from her."
"Yes, but loving a man is a different thing to loving a woman."
"No, it isn't; it's just the same."
"Not so, for you do not go to bed with a woman and you do with your husband."
"That's no matter, my love would be the same."
"What? You would not rather sleep with me than with M---- M----?"
"No, indeed I should not, because you are a man and would see me."
"You don't want a man to see you, then?"
"Do you think you are so ugly, then?"
At this she turned to M---- M---- and said, with evident vexation, "I am not really ugly, am I?"
"No, darling," said M---- M----, bursting with laughter, "it is quite the other way; you are very pretty." With these words she took her on her knee and embraced her tenderly.
"Your corset is too tight; you can't possibly have such a small waist as that."
"You make a mistake, you can put your hand there and see for yourself."
"I can't believe it."
M---- M---- then held her close to the grill and told me to see for myself. At the same moment she turned up her dress.
"You were right," said I, "and I owe you an apology;" but in my heart I cursed the grating and the chemise.
"My opinion is," said I to M---- M----, "that we have here a little boy."
I did not wait for a reply, but satisfied myself by my sense of touch as to her sex, and I could see that the little one and her governess were both pleased that my mind was at rest on the subject.
I drew my hand away, and the little girl looked at M---- M----, and reassured by her smiling air asked if she might go away for a moment. I must have reduced her to a state in which a moment's solitude was necessary, and I myself was in a very excited condition.
As soon as she was gone I said to M---- M----,
"Do you know that what you have shewn me has made me unhappy?"
"Has it? Why?"
"Because your boarder is charming, and I am longing to enjoy her."
"I am sorry for that, for you can't possibly go any further; and besides, I know you, and even if you could satisfy your passion without danger to her, I would not give her up to you, you would spoil her."
"Do you think that after enjoying you she would care to enjoy me? I should lose too heavily by the comparison."
"Give me your hand."
"Stay, one moment."
"I don't want to see anything."
"Not a little bit?"
"Nothing at all."
"Are you angry with me, then?"
"Not at all. If you have been pleased I am glad, and if you have filled her with desires she will love me all the better."
"How pleasant it would be, sweetheart, if we could all three of us be together alone and at liberty!"
"Yes; but it is impossible."
"Are you sure that no inquisitive eye is looking upon us?"
"The height of that fatal grill has deprived me of the sight of many charms."
"Why didn't you go to the other parlour it is much lower there."
"Let us go there, then."
"Not to-day; I should not be able to give any reason for the change."
"I will come again to-morrow, and start for Lyons in the evening."
The little boarder came back, and I stood up facing her.