She replied, agitated and trembling: “Come! We shall do what we can.”
He remained sombre and made no reply. She repeated “Come!”
She took his arm. The living warmth of her hand animated him. He said:
“Do you wish it?”
“I can not leave you.”
And, in her anxiety and anguish, she almost smiled, in thinking that he had succeeded so quickly by his folly.
“To-morrow?” said he, inquiringly.
She replied quickly, with a defensive instinct:
“Oh, no; not to-morrow!”
“You do not love me; you regret that you have promised.”
“No, I do not regret, but—”
He implored, he supplicated her. She looked at him for a moment, turned her head, hesitated, and said, in a low tone:
MISS BELL ASKS A QUESTION
After dinner, Miss Bell was sketching in the drawing-room. She was tracing, on canvas, profiles of bearded Etruscans for a cushion which Madame Marmet was to embroider. Prince Albertinelli was selecting the wool with an almost feminine knowledge of shades. It was late when Choulette, having, as was his habit, played briscola with the cook at the caterer’s, appeared, as joyful as if he possessed the mind of a god. He took a seat on a sofa, beside Madame Martin, and looked at her tenderly. Voluptuousness shone in his green eyes. He enveloped her, while talking to her, with poetic and picturesque phrases. It was like the sketch of a lovesong that he was improvising for her. In oddly involved sentences, he told her of the charm that she exhaled.
“He, too!” said she to herself.
She amused herself by teasing him. She asked whether he had not found in Florence, in the low quarters, one of the kind of women whom he liked to visit. His preferences were known. He could deny it as much as he wished: no one was ignorant of the door where he had found the cordon of his Third Order. His friends had met him on the boulevard. His taste for unfortunate women was evident in his most beautiful poems.
“Oh, Monsieur Choulette, so far as I am able to judge, you like very bad women.”
He replied with solemnity:
“Madame, you may collect the grain of calumiy sown by Monsieur Paul Vence and throw handfuls of it at me. I will not try to avoid it. It is not necessary you should know that I am chaste and that my mind is pure. But do not judge lightly those whom you call unfortunate, and who should be sacred to you, since they are unfortunate. The disdained and lost girl is the docile clay under the finger of the Divine Potter: she is the victim and the altar of the holocaust. The unfortunates are nearer God than the honest women: they have lost conceit. They do not glorify themselves with the untried virtue the matron prides herself on.