"In sleeping in the closet," said she, "I obeyed my aunt's orders, and in striking you (for which I am very sorry) I was but defending my honour; and I cannot admit that every man who sees me is at liberty to lose his reason. I think you will allow that your duty is to respect, and mine to defend, my honour."
"If that is your line of argument, I acknowledge that you are right; but you had nothing to complain of, for I bore your blow in silence, and by my leaving the house you might know that it was my intention to respect you for the future. Did you come to hear me say this? If so, you are satisfied. But you will not be offended if I laugh at your excuses, for after what you have said I cannot help thinking them very laughable."
"What have I said?"
"That you only did your duty in flattening my nose. If so, do you think it is necessary to apologize for the performance of duty?"
"I ought to have defended myself more gently. But forget everything and forgive me; I will defend myself no more in any way. I am yours and I love you, and I am ready to prove my love."
She could not have spoken more plainly, and as she spoke the last words she fell on me with her face close to mine, which she bedewed with her tears. I was ashamed of such an easy conquest, and I gently withdrew from her embrace, telling her to return after the bruise on my face had disappeared. She left me deeply mortified.
The Italian, who had taken half the suite of rooms, had arrived in the course of the night. I asked his name, and was given a card bearing the name of The Marquis Don Antonio della Croce.
Was it the Croce I knew?
It was very possible.
I asked what kind of an establishment he had, and was informed that the marchioness had a lady's maid, and the marquis a secretary and two servants. I longed to see the nobleman in question.
I had not long to wait, for as soon as he heard that I was his neighbour, he came to see me, and we spent two hours in telling each other our adventures since we had parted in Milan. He had heard that I had made the fortune of the girl he had abandoned, and in the six years that had elapsed he had been travelling all over Europe, engaged in a constant strife with fortune. At Paris and Brussels he had made a good deal of money, and in the latter town he had fallen in love with a young lady of rank, whom her father had shut up in a convent. He had taken her away, and she it was whom he called the Marchioness della Croce, now six months with child.
He made her pass for his wife, because, as he said, he meant to marry her eventually.
"I have fifty thousand francs in gold," said he, "and as much again in jewellery and various possessions. It is my intention to give suppers here and hold a bank, but if I play without correcting the freaks of fortune I am sure to lose." He intended going to Warsaw, thinking I would give him introductions to all my friends there; but he made a mistake, and I did not even introduce him to my Polish friends at Spa. I told him he could easily make their acquaintance by himself, and that I would neither make nor mar with him.
I accepted his invitation to dinner for the same day. His secretary, as he called him, was merely his confederate. He was a clever Veronese named Conti, and his wife was an essential accomplice in Croce's designs.
At noon my friend the hatter came again with the ring, followed by the owner, who looked like a bravo. They were accompanied by the jeweller and another individual. The owner asked me once more to lend him two hundred louis on the ring.
My proper course would have been to beg to be excused, then I should have had no more trouble in the matter; but it was not to be. I wanted to make him see that the objection he made to having the stone taken out was an insuperable obstacle to my lending him the money.
"When the stone is removed," said I, "we shall see what it really is. Listen to my proposal: if it weighs twenty-six grains, I will give you, not two but three hundred louis, but in its present condition I shall give nothing at all."
"You have no business to doubt my word; you insult me by doing so."
"Not at all, I have no intentions of the kind.