“Oh, father, you hurt me!”
Instantly Ginevra was put down with an air of respect. She nodded her head with a graceful movement at her mother, who was frightened by her cry, as if to say, “Don’t be alarmed, it was only a trick to get away.”
The pale, wan face of the baroness recovered its usual tones, and even assumed a look of gayety. Piombo rubbed his hands violently,—with him the surest symptom of joy; he had taken to this habit at court when he saw Napoleon becoming angry with those of his generals and ministers who served him ill or committed blunders. When, as now, the muscles of his face relaxed, every wrinkle on his forehead expressed benevolence. These two old people presented at this moment precisely the aspect of a drooping plant to which a little water has given fresh life after long dryness.
“Now, to dinner! to dinner!” cried the baron, offering his large hand to his daughter, whom he called “Signora Piombellina,”—another symptom of gayety, to which Ginevra replied by a smile.
“Ah ca!” said Piombo, as they left the table, “your mother has called my attention to the fact that for some weeks you have stayed much longer than usual at the studio. It seems that painting is more to you than your parents—”
“Ginevra is preparing some surprise for us, I think,” said the mother.
“A picture of your own! will you bring us that?” cried the Corsican, clapping his hands.
“Yes, I am very much occupied at the studio,” replied Ginevra, rather slowly.
“What is the matter, Ginevra? You are turning pale!” cried her mother.
“No!” exclaimed the young girl in a tone of resolution,—“no! it shall never be said that Ginevra Piombo acted a lie.”
Hearing this singular exclamation, Piombo and his wife looked at their daughter in astonishment.
“I love a young man,” she added, in a voice of emotion.
Then, not venturing to look at her parents, she lowered her large eyelids as if to veil the fire of her eyes.
“Is he a prince?” asked her father, ironically, in a tone of voice which made the mother quail.
“No, father,” she said, gently, “he is a young man without fortune.”
“Is he very handsome?”
“He is very unfortunate.”
“What is he?”
“Labedoyere’s comrade; he was proscribed, without a refuge; Servin concealed him, and—”
“Servin is a good fellow, who has done well,” cried Piombo; “but you, my daughter, you do wrong to love any man, except your father.”
“It does not depend on me to love, or not to love,” replied Ginevra, still gently.
“I flattered myself,” continued her father, “that my Ginevra would be faithful to me until I died; and that my love and that of her mother would suffice her till then; I did not expect that our tenderness would find a rival in her soul, and—”
“Did I ever reproach you for your fanaticism for Napoleon?” said Ginevra. “Have you never loved any one but me? Did you not leave me for months together when you went on missions. I bore your absence courageously. Life has necessities to which we must all submit.”