“There now, Dagobert, you have begun to scold us already.”
“Just at the very commencement,” added Blanche.
“Commencement!—what, is there to be a sequel? a finish?”
“A finish? we hope not,” said Rose, laughing like mad.
“All we ask is, that it should last forever,” added Blanche, sharing in the hilarity of her sister.
Dagobert looked gravely from one to the other of the two maidens, as if trying to guess this enigma; but when he saw their sweet, innocent faces gracefully animated by a frank, ingenuous laugh, he reflected that they would not be so gay if they had any serious matter for self-reproach, and he felt pleased at seeing them so merry in the midst of their precarious position.
“Laugh on, my children!” he said. “I like so much to see you laugh.”
Then, thinking that was not precisely the way in which he ought to treat the singular confession of the young girls, he added in a gruff voice: “Yes, I like to see you laugh—but not when you receive fair visitors with blue eyes, young ladies!—Come, acknowledge that I’m an old fool to listen to such nonsense—you are only making game of me.”
“Nay, what we tell you is quite true.”
“You know we never tell stories,” added Rose.
“They are right—they never fib,” said the soldier, in renewed perplexity.
“But how the devil is such a visit possible? I sleep before your door—Spoil-sport sleeps under your window—and all the blue eyes and fair locks in the world must come in by one of those two ways—and, if they had tried it, the dog and I, who have both of us quick ears, would have received their visits after our fashion. But come, children! pray, speak to the purpose. Explain yourselves!”
The two sisters, who saw, by the expression of Dagobert’s countenance, that he felt really uneasy, determined no longer to trifle with his kindness. They exchanged a glance, and Rose, taking in her little hand the coarse, broad palm of the veteran, said to him: “Come, do not plague yourself! We will tell you all about the visits of our friend, Gabriel.”
“There you are again!—He has a name, then?”
“Certainly, he has a name. It is Gabriel.”
“Is it not a pretty name, Dagobert? Oh, you will see and love, as we do, our beautiful Gabriel!”
“I’ll love your beautiful Gabriel, will I?” said the veteran, shaking his head—“Love your beautiful Gabriel?—that’s as it may be. I must first know—” Then, interrupting himself, he added: “It is queer. That reminds me of something.”
“Of what, Dagobert?”
“Fifteen years ago, in the last letter that your father, on his return from France, brought me from my wife: she told me that, poor as she was, and with our little growing Agricola on her hands, she had taken in a poor deserted child, with the face of a cherub, and the name of Gabriel—and only a short time since I heard of him again.”