“Why quite alone? I certainly hope not.”
“You intend to marry?”
“You are trying to marry?”
“No; one may think of marrying, but one ought not to try to marry.”
“And yet there are people who do try. Come, I can answer for that, and you even; people have wished to marry you.”
“How do you know that?”
“Oh! I know all your little affairs so well; you are what they call a good match, and I repeat it, they have wished to marry you.”
“Who told you that?”
“Monsieur le Cure.”
“Then he was very wrong,” said Jean, with a certain sharpness.
“No, no, he was not wrong. If any one has been to blame it is I. I soon discovered that your godfather was never so happy as when he was speaking of you. So when I was alone with him during our walks, to please him I talked of you, and he related your history to me. You are well off; you are very well off; from Government you receive every month two hundred and thirteen francs and some centimes; am I correct?”
“Yes,” said Jean, deciding to bear with a good grace his share in the Cure’s indiscretions.
“You have eight thousand francs’ income?”
“Nearly, not quite.”
“Add to that your house, which is worth thirty thousand francs. You are in an excellent position, and people have asked your hand.”
“Asked my hand! No, no.”
“They have, they have, twice, and you have refused two very good marriages, two very good fortunes, if you prefer it—it is the same thing for so many people. Two hundred thousand francs in the one, three hundred thousand in the other case. It appears that these fortunes are enormous for the country! Yet you have refused! Tell me why.”
“Well, it concerned two charming young girls.”
“That is understood. One always says that.”
“But whom I scarcely knew. They forced me—for I did resist—they forced me to spend two or three evenings with them last winter.”
“Then—I don’t quite know how to explain it to you. I did not feel the slightest touch of embarrassment, emotion, anxiety, or disturbance—”
“In fact,” said Bettina, resolutely, “not the least suspicion of love.”
“No, not the least, and I returned quite calmly to my bachelor den, for I think it is better not to marry than to marry without love.”
“And I think so, too.”
She looked at him, he looked at her, and suddenly, to the great surprise of both, they found nothing more to say, nothing at all.
At this moment Harry and Bella rushed into the room, with cries of joy.
“Monsieur Jean! Are you there? Come and see our ponies!”
“Ah!” said Bettina, her voice a little uncertain, “Edwards has just come back from Paris, and has brought two microscopic ponies for the children. Let us go to see them, shall we?”