“Tush, pretty trembler!—do not be frightened at my face,” said the man, with a bitter smile. “After three months’ marriage, there is no different between ugliness and beauty. Custom is a great leveller. I was coming to your house when I saw you leave it; so, as I have matters of importance to communicate, I ventured to follow your footsteps. My name is Jean Nicot, a name already favourably known as a French artist. The art of painting and the art of music are nearly connected, and the stage is an altar that unites the two.”
There was something frank and unembarrassed in the man’s address that served to dispel the fear his appearance had occasioned. He seated himself, as he spoke, on a crag beside her, and, looking up steadily into her face, continued:—
“You are very beautiful, Viola Pisani, and I am not surprised at the number of your admirers. If I presume to place myself in the list, it is because I am the only one who loves thee honestly, and woos thee fairly. Nay, look not so indignant! Listen to me. Has the Prince di — ever spoken to thee of marriage; or the beautiful imposter Zanoni, or the young blue-eyed Englishman, Clarence Glyndon? It is marriage,—it is a home, it is safety, it is reputation, that I offer to thee; and these last when the straight form grows crooked, and the bright eyes dim. What say you?” and he attempted to seize her hand.
Viola shrunk from him, and silently turned to depart. He rose abruptly and placed himself on her path.
“Actress, you must hear me! Do you know what this calling of the stage is in the eyes of prejudice,—that is, of the common opinion of mankind? It is to be a princess before the lamps, and a Pariah before the day. No man believes in your virtue, no man credits your vows; you are the puppet that they consent to trick out with tinsel for their amusement, not an idol for their worship. Are you so enamoured of this career that you scorn even to think of security and honour? Perhaps you are different from what you seem. Perhaps you laugh at the prejudice that would degrade you, and would wisely turn it to advantage. Speak frankly to me; I have no prejudice either. Sweet one, I am sure we should agree. Now, this Prince di —, I have a message from him. Shall I deliver it?”