And how could the foolish theologian maintain that this was an imperfection?"
"Because it is the result of desire, Hedvig, and it would not have taken place in me if I had not been charmed with you, and if I had not conceived the most seducing ideas of the beauties that I cannot see from the view of the beauties I can see. Tell me frankly whether feeling that did not give you an agreeable sensation."
"It did, and just in the place where your hand is now. Don't you feel a pleasant tickling there, Helen, after what the gentleman has been saying to us?"
"Yes, I feel it, but I often do, without anything to excite me."
"And then," said I, "nature makes you appease it . . . thus?"
"Not at all."
"Oh, yes!" said Hedvig. "Even when we are asleep our hands seek that spot as if by instinct, and if it were not for that solace I think we should get terribly ill."
As this philosophical discourse, conducted by the young theologian in quite a professional manner, proceeded, we reached a beautiful basin of water, with a flight of marble steps for bathers. Although the air was cool our heads were hot, and I conceived the idea of telling them that it would do them good to bathe their feet, and that if they would allow me I would take off their shoes and stockings.
"I should like to so much," said Hedvig.
"And I too," said Helen.
"Then sit down, ladies, on the first step."
They proceeded to sit down and I began to take off their shoes, praising the beauty of their legs, and pretending for the present not to want to go farther than the knee. When they got into the water they were obliged to pick up their clothes, and I encouraged them to do so.
"Well, well," said Hedvig, "men have thighs too."
Helen, who would have been ashamed to be beaten by her cousin, was not backward in shewing her legs.
"That will do, charming maids," said I, "you might catch cold if you stayed longer in the water."
They walked up backwards, still holding up their clothes for fear of wetting them, and it was then my duty to wipe them dry with all the handkerchiefs I had. This pleasant task left me at freedom to touch and see, and the reader will imagine that I did my best in that direction. The fair theologian told me I wanted to know too much, but Helen let me do what I liked with such a tender and affectionate expression that it was as much as I could do to keep within bounds. At last, when I had drawn on their shoes and stockings, I told them that I was delighted to have seen the hidden charms of the two prettiest girls in Geneva.
"What effect had it on you?" asked Hedvig.
"I daren't tell you to look, but feel, both of you."
"Do you bathe, too."
"It's out of the question, a man's undressing takes so much trouble."
"But we have still two hours before us, in which we need not fear any interruption."
This reply gave me a foretaste of the bliss I had to gain, but I did not wish to expose myself to an illness by going into the water in my present state. I noticed a summer-house at a little distance, and feeling sure that M. Tronchin had left the door open, I took the two girls on my arm and led them there without giving them any hint of my intentions. The summer-house was scented with vases of pot-pourri and adorned with engravings; but, best of all, there was a large couch which seemed made for repose and pleasure. I sat down on it between my two sweethearts, and as I caressed them I told them I was going to shew them something they had never seen before, and without more ado I displayed to their gaze the principal agent in the preservation of the human race. They got up to admire it, and taking a hand of each one I procured them some enjoyment, but in the middle of their labours an abundant flow of liquid threw them into the greatest astonishment.
"That," said I, "is the Word which makes men."
"It's beautiful!" cried Helen, laughing at the term "word."
"I have a word too," said Hedvig, "and I will shew it to you if you will wait a minute."
"Come, Hedvig, and I will save you the trouble of making it yourself, and will do it better."
"I daresay, but I have never done it with a man."
"No more have I," said Helen.