“Oh, certainly!” she replied. “The dear nuns will do anything for me. Their order is one of perpetual adoration, and their rules are very strict, but they do not apply them to their old pupils, and I am one of their great favorites.”
“Naturally!” I observed. “And will you also join in the service of perpetual adoration?”
“It needs an untainted soul like yours,” I said, with a satirical smile, which she did not see, “to pray before the unveiled Host without being conscience-smitten! I envy you your privilege. I could not do it—but you are probably nearer to the angels than we know. And so you will pray for me?”
She raised her eyes with devout gentleness. “I will indeed!”
“I thank you!”—and I choked back the bitter contempt and disgust I had for her hypocrisy as I spoke—“I thank you heartily—most heartily! Addio!”
She came or rather floated to my side, her white garments trailing about her and the gold of her hair glittering in the mingled glow of the firelight and the wintery sunbeams that shone through the window. She looked up—a witch-like languor lay in her eyes—her red lips pouted.
“Not one kiss before you go?” she said.
For a moment I lost my self-possession. I scarcely remember now what I did. I know I clasped her almost roughly in my arms—I know that I kissed her passionately on lips, throat and brow—and that in the fervor of my embraces, the thought of what manner of vile thing she was came swiftly upon me, causing me to release her with such suddenness that she caught at the back of a chair to save herself from falling. Her breath came and went in little quick gasps of excitement, her face was flushed—she looked astonished, yet certainly not displeased. No, she was not angry, but I was— thoroughly annoyed—bitterly vexed with myself, for being such a fool.
“Forgive me,” I muttered. “I forgot—I—”
A little smile stole round the corners of her mouth.
“You are fully pardoned!” she said, in a low voice, “you need not apologize.”
Her smile deepened; suddenly she broke into a rippling laugh, sweet and silvery as a bell—a laugh that went through me like a knife. Was it not the self-same laughter that had pierced my brain the night I witnessed her amorous interview with Guido in the avenue? Had not the cruel mockery of it nearly driven me mad? I could not endure it—I sprung to her side—she ceased laughing and looked at me in wide-eyed wonderment.
“Listen!” I said, in an impatient, almost fierce tone. “Do not laugh like that! It jars my nerves—it—hurts me! I will tell you why. Once—long ago—in my youth—I loved a woman. She was not like you— no—for she was false! False to the very heart’s core—false in every word she uttered. You understand me?