“I hope I was not the most foolish thing that could come into your thoughts,” answered Delphin, jestingly. “But it is quite true; you have been left a great deal alone lately.”
“Yes; but perhaps I have my own reasons for it.”
“May I venture to ask what these reasons are?”
“Perhaps it would be better if I were to tell you,” said she, regarding attentively the point of her shoe, which projected from her dress as she lay back in her chair. She had tiny pointed French shoes with straps across the instep, through which appeared a blue silk stocking.
“I assure you I shall be very thankful, and at the same time most discreet.”
“Well, then, Madeleine is so young,” said Fanny, as if following the train of her own thoughts, “that I feel it to a certain extent my duty to look after her, and—”
“I scarcely see that it is absolutely necessary,” answered he.
“Yes; but when a girl so inexperienced as Madeleine is brought into contact with gentlemen who are—well, who are so clever as, for instance, yourself, Mr. Delphin, you see—” She looked at him as she paused in her sentence.
“You are paying me too great a compliment,” said he, laughing; “and besides, you can never imagine that I would take advantage—”
“Nonsense!” rejoined Fanny; “I know all about that. You are just like all the rest. You would never hesitate to take advantage of even the slightest opportunity; would you, now? Tell me frankly.”
“Well,” answered he, rising, “if you really wish for an honest answer, I must confess that when I see a strawberry that nobody else seems to notice, I generally pick it.”
“Yes; it is just that greediness that all men have, and which I find, at the same time, so dangerous and incomprehensible.”
“Yes; but, Mrs. Garman, strawberries are really so delicious.”
“Yes, when they are ripe,” answered Fanny.
The words fell from her lips as smoothly as butter. Delphin had taken a few paces across the room, and just turned in time to see the last glimpse of a look which must have been resting on him while she spoke. It was not very often that he lost his self-possession in a conversation of this kind, but the discovery he had made, or thought that he had made, with all its uncertainty, and the feeling of pleased vanity it brought with it, confused him, and he stood stammering and blushing before her. She still lay stretched in the armchair, a position which displayed to the best advantage the lines of her lovely form. Her beauty was fully matured, and showed freedom and elegance in every movement. She could see that she had said enough for the present, and she got up without apparently taking any notice of his confusion.
“You must think,” said she quickly, with a smile, “that it is absurd for me to preach you a sermon. We all have to attend to our own affairs; and if you will excuse me, I have to go and try on a dress. Good-bye, Mr. Delphin; I hope you will find your strawberries to your taste.”