Thus I fondled my growing passion.
I laughed at the absurd title the rascal had given himself, and when the thought struck me that he had possibly abandoned her to me altogether, I made up my mind that he deserved hanging. Nevertheless, I resolved never to leave her.
I lay down on the bed, and as I built a thousand castles in the air I fell asleep.
The landlady awoke me softly, saying that three o'clock had struck.
"Wait a moment before you bring in the dinner. I will go and see if the lady is awake."
I opened the door gently, and saw she was still asleep, but as I closed the door after me the noise awoke her, and she asked if I had dined.
"I shall not take any dinner, madam, unless you do me the honour to dine with me. You have had a five hours' rest, and I hope you are better."
"I will sit down with you to dinner, as you wish it."
"That makes me happy, and I will order dinner to be served forthwith."
She ate little, but what little she did eat was taken with a good appetite. She was agreeably surprised to see the beefsteaks and plum pudding, which I had ordered for her.
When the landlady came in, she asked her if the cook was an Englishman, and when she heard that I had given directions for the preparation of her national dishes, she seemed full of gratitude. She cheered up, and congratulated me on my appetite, while I encouraged her to drink some excellent Montepulciano and Montefiascone. By dessert she was in good spirits, while I felt rather excited. She told me, in Italian, that she was born in London, and I thought I should have died with joy, in reply to my question whether she knew Madame Cornelis, she replied that she had known her daughter as they had been at school together.
"Has Sophie grown tall?"
"No, she is quite small, but she is very pretty, and so clever."
"She must now be seventeen."
"Exactly. We are of the same age."
As she said this she blushed and lowered her eyes.
"Are you ill?"
"Not at all. I scarcely like to say it, but Sophie is the very image of you."
"Why should you hesitate to say so? It has been remarked to me before. No doubt it is a mere coincidence. How long ago is it since you have seen her?"
"Eighteen months; she went back to her mother's, to be married as it was said, but I don't know to whom."
"Your news interests me deeply."
The landlord brought me the bill, and I saw a note of three pains which her husband had spent on himself and his horse.
"He said you would pay," observed the landlord.
The Englishwoman blushed. I paid the bill, and we went on.
I was delighted to see her blushing, it proved she was not a party to her husband's proceedings.
I was burning with the desire to know how she had left London and had met the Frenchman, and why they were going to Rome; but I did not want to trouble her by my questions, and I loved her too well already to give her any pain.
We had a three hours' drive before us, so I turned the conversation to Sophie, with whom she had been at school.
"Was Miss Nancy Steyne there when you left?" said I.
The reader may remember how fond I had been of this young lady, who had dined with me, and whom I had covered with kisses, though she was only twelve.
My companion sighed at hearing the name of Nancy, and told me that she had left.
"Was she pretty when you knew her?"
"She was a beauty, but her loveliness was a fatal gift to her. Nancy was a close friend of mine, we loved each other tenderly; and perhaps our sympathy arose from the similarity of the fate in store for us. Nancy, too loving and too simple, is now, perhaps, even more unhappy than myself."
"More unhappy? What do you mean?"
"Is it possible that fate has treated you harshly? Is it possible that you can be unhappy with such a letter of commendation as nature has given you?"
"Alas! let us speak of something else."
Her countenance was suffused with emotion. I pitied her in secret, and led the conversation back to Nancy.
"Tell me why you think Nancy is unhappy."
"She ran away with a young man she loved; they despaired of gaining the parents' consent to the match.