But how is it that she attacked you and not my brother-in-law?"
"Probably because she thought I looked a greater sinner than he."
"That, I suppose, must have been the reason. One should never heed the talk of mad people."
"You are sarcastic, but I take it all in good part. Perhaps I am as great a sinner as I look; but beauty should be merciful to me, for it is by beauty that I am led astray."
"I wonder the empress does not shut up men as well as women."
"Perhaps she hopes to see them all at her feet when there are no more girls left to amuse them."
"That is a jest. You should rather say that she cannot forgive her own sex the lack of a virtue which she exercises so eminently, and which is so easily observed."
"I have nothing to allege against the empress's virtue, but with your leave I beg to entertain very strong doubts as to the possibility of the general exercise of that virtue which we call continence."
"No doubt everyone thinks by his own standard. A man may be praised for temperance in whom temperance is no merit. What is easy to you may be hard to me, and 'vice versa'. Both of us may be right."
This interesting conversation made me compare Clementine to the fair marchioness at Milan, but there was this difference between them: Mdlle. Q---- spoke with an air of gravity and importance, whereas Clementine expounded her system with great simplicity and an utter indifference of manner. I thought her observations so acute and her utterance so perfect and artistic, that I felt ashamed of having misjudged her at dinner. Her silence, and the blush which mounted to her face when anyone asked her a question, had made me suspect both confusion and poverty in her ideas, for timidity is often another word for stupidity; but the conversation I have just reported made me feel that I had made a great mistake. The marchioness, being older and having seen more of the world, was more skilled in argument; but Clementine had twice eluded my questions with the utmost skill, and I felt obliged to award her the palm.
When we got back to the castle we found a lady with her son and daughter, and another relation of the count's, a young abbe, whom I found most objectionable.
He was a pitiless talker, and on the pretence of having seen me at Milan he took the opportunity of flattering me in a disgusting manner. Besides, he made sheep's eyes at Clementine, and I did not like the idea of having a fellow like that for a rival. I said very dryly that I did not remember him at all; but he was not a man of delicate feeling, and this did not disconcert him in the least. He sat down beside Clementine, and taking her hand told her that she must add me to the long catalogue of her victims. She could do nothing else but laugh at silly talk of this kind; I knew it, but that laugh of hers displeased me. I would have had her say--I do not know what, but something biting and sarcastic. Not at all; the impertinent fellow whispered something in her ear, and she answered in the same way. This was more than I could bear. Some question or other was being discussed, and the abbe asked for my opinion. I do not remember what I answered, but I know that I gave him a bitter reply in the hope of putting him in a bad temper and reducing him to silence. But he was a battle charger, and used to trumpet, fife, and gun; nothing put him out. He appealed to Clementine, and I had the mortification of hearing her opinion given, though with a blush, in his favour. The fop was satisfied, and kissed the young countess's hand with an air of fatuous happiness. This was too much; and I cursed the abbe and Clementine, too. I rose from my seat and went to the window.
The window is a great blessing to an impatient man, whom the rules of politeness in some degree constrain. He can turn his back on bores, without their being able to charge him witch direct rudeness; but people know what he means, and that soothes his feelings.
I have noted this trifling circumstance only to point out how bad temper blinds its victims.