I am ravished in an ecstacy of admiration. Never was paradox so finely maintained. I might cavil and contest it, but I prefer to keep silence to admire and adore."
"Thank you, dear Iolas, but I want no favour. Tell me how you could disprove my argument?"
"I should attack it on the point of height. You know you would not let me change your chemise even if I were a dwarf."
"Ah, dear Iolas! we cannot deceive each other. Would that Heaven had destined me to be married to a man like you!"
"Alas! why am I not worthy of aspiring to such a position?"
I do not know where the conversation would have landed us, but just then the countess came to tell us that dinner was waiting, adding that she was glad to see we loved one another.
"Madly," said Clementine, "but we are discreet."
"If you are discreet, you cannot love madly."
"True, countess," said I, "for the madness of love and wisdom cannot dwell together. I should rather say we are reasonable, for the mind may be grave while the heart's gay."
We dined merrily together, then we played at cards, and in the evening we finished reading the Pastor Fido. When we were discussing the beauties of this delightful work Clementine asked me if the thirteenth book of the "AEneid" was fine.
"My dear countess, it is quite worthless; and I only praised it to flatter the descendant of the author. However, the same writer made a poem on the tricks of countryfolk, which is by no means devoid of merit. But you are sleepy, and I am preventing you from undressing."
"Not at all."
She took off her clothes in a moment with the greatest coolness, and did not indulge my licentious gaze in the least. She got into bed, and I sat beside her; whereupon she sat up again, and her sister turned her back upon us. The Pastor Fido was on her night- table, and opening the book I proceeded to read the passage where Mirtillo describes the sweetness of the kiss Amaryllis had given him, attuning my voice to the sentiment of the lines. Clementine seemed as much affected as I was, and I fastened my lips on hers. What happiness! She drew in the balm of my lips with delight, and appeared to be free from alarm, so I was about to clasp her in my arms when she pushed me away with the utmost gentleness, begging me to spare her.
This was modesty at bay. I begged her pardon, and taking her hand breathed out upon it all the ecstasy of my lips.
"You are trembling," said she, in a voice that did but increase the amorous tumult of my heart.
"Yes, dearest countess, and I assure you I tremble for fear of you. Good night, I am going; and my prayer must be that I may love you less."
"Why so? To love less is to begin to hate. Do as I do, and pray that your love may grow and likewise the strength to resist it."
I went to bed ill pleased with myself. I did not know whether I had gone too far or not far enough; but what did it matter? One thing was certain, I was sorry for what I had done, and that was always a thought which pained me.
In Clementine I saw a woman worthy of the deepest love and the greatest respect, and I knew not how I could cease to love her, nor yet how I could continue loving her without the reward which every faithful lover hopes to win.
"If she loves me," I said to myself, "she cannot refuse me, but it is my part to beg and pray, and even to push her to an extremity, that she may find an excuse for her defeat. A lover's duty is to oblige the woman he loves to surrender at discretion, and love always absolves him for so doing."
According to this argument, which I coloured to suit my passions, Clementine could not refuse me unless she did not love me, and I determined to put her to the proof. I was strengthened in this resolve by the wish to free myself from the state of excitement I was in, and I was sure that if she continued obdurate I should soon get cured. But at the same time I shuddered at the thought; the idea, of my no longer loving Clementine seemed to me an impossibility and a cruelty.