“What do you mean, madame?” cried the princess.
“I am speaking of myself, aunt; you reproach me of being independent and resolute—suppose I were to become hypocritical and wicked? In truth, I prefer keeping my dear little faults, which I love like spoiled children. I know what I am; I do not know what I might be.”
“But you must acknowledge, Mdlle. Adrienne,” said Baron Tripeaud, with a self-conceited and sententious air, “that a conversion—”
“I believe,” said Adrienne, disdainfully, “that M. Tripeaud is well versed in the conversion of all sorts of property into all sorts of profit, by all sorts of means—but he knows nothing of this matter.”
“But, madame,” resumed the financier, gathering courage from a glance of the princess, “you forget that I have the honor to be your deputy guardian, and that—”
“It is true that M. Tripeaud has that honor,” said Adrienne, with still more haughtiness, and not even looking at the baron; “I could never tell exactly why. But as it is not now the time to guess enigmas, I wish to know, aunt, the object and the end of this meeting?”
“You shall be satisfied, madame. I will explain myself in a very clear and precise manner. You shall know the plan of conduct that you will have henceforth to pursue; and if you refuse to submit thereto, with the obedience and respect that is due to my orders, I shall at once see what course to take.”
It is impossible to give an idea of the imperious tone and stern look of the princess, as she pronounced these words which were calculated to startle a girl, until now accustomed to live in a great measure as she pleased: yet, contrary perhaps to the expectation of Madame de Saint Dizier, instead of answering impetuously, Adrienne looked her full in the face, and said, laughing: “This is a perfect declaration of war. It’s becoming very amusing.”
“We are not talking of declarations of war,” said the Abbe d’Aigrigny, harshly, as if offended by the expressions of Mdlle. de Cardoville.
“Now, M. l’Abbe!” returned Adrienne, “for an old colonel, you are really too severe upon a jest!—you are so much indebted to ‘war,’ which gave you a French regiment after fighting so long against France—in order to learn, of course, the strength and the weakness of her enemies.”
On these words, which recalled painful remembrances, the marquis colored; he was going to answer, but the princess exclaimed: “Really, madame, your behavior is quite intolerable!”
“Well, aunt, I acknowledge I was wrong. I ought not to have said this is very amusing—for it is not so, at all; but it is at least very curious—and perhaps,” added the young girl, after a moment’s silence, “perhaps very audacious and audacity pleases me. As we are upon this subject, and you talk of a plan of conduct to which I must conform myself, under pain of (interrupting herself)—under pain of what, I should like to know, aunt?”